Today is Good Friday, and we celebrate Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross 2000 years ago on this very day. From the first Friday to the first Easter in year 33 was the turning point of human history because, on this very day, the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of the Jews had willing sacrifice his life by the will of God his Father to save all who believes. If Jesus did not die for humanity, we could never receive forgiveness of sins from God. Good Friday is all about Jesus, and it is good because we believe in Him who died on the Cross to receive salvation—saved from the judgement of God. However, the journey of Christ to the Cross was costly. It took lots of humiliation, abuses and pain on the road to the Cross. So let us remind each other from today’s passage. Hopefully, I can remind you of some of the significant events on the first Good Friday, where the Lord Jesus Christ has bored the sins of many. A king became a criminal and a criminal who is executed with one of the Romans’ most cruel types of execution.
1) The King rejected by his people
On that day, when he was delivered to the Romans’ hands, Pontius Pilate was reluctant to pass judgment on Jesus because he had found no crime worthy of death sentence committed by Jesus. While Jesus was just being mocked and abused by the Roman soldiers who put a crown of thorns and a purple robe on him. In verse 4, the narrative recalled, “Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:4-6)
It was not the Roman governor who wanted to kill Jesus, but it was God’s people; the Jewish leaders and ruling class did not want Jesus to live. They wanted the innocent man to be crucified. Even Pilate had found no legal basis for arresting and holding Jesus, much less physically punishing him. The Jews had no authority to crucify anyone, but they want to crucify the Son of God, who came to save the world. The Jewish leaders insisted in verse 7, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” They claimed that Jesus had broken the law of blasphemy. In their minds, Jesus’ crime is his title, claiming to be the “Son of God”. Where Jesus came from, from his Father in heaven, and who he is, as God, or equal with God, that led all along to charges of blasphemy. But to Pilate, the divine sonship of Jesus was something new and brought him fear. This person in front of him is not just a mock king of the Jews but with some kind of favoured messenger from the gods. Pilate the governor who supposed to be in charge of authority, but his superstitious fear of the prisoner in his presence prompted him to went back inside the palace. He asked Jesus, “Where do you come from?” But Jesus didn’t answer him. “” Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”” (John 19:10b-11) Pilate claimed that Jesus’ fate is in his hands, but according to Jesus, the origin and destiny of Christ is from above. It rests with God and with him alone. Unless the Father in heaven allowed to do so, Jesus cannot be killed. Instead, it was by God’s will that Jesus’ mission as the Messiah to die in Roman’s hands.
In chapter 10:17-18 in the Gospel of John, Jesus predicted this a long time ago. He said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
In relation to all human beings and institutions on earth, Jesus’ fate is in his own hands. But in relation to the Father, Jesus has received a command that he must obey. Pilate’s authority over Jesus is from above; he is merely an instrument in the hands of God. God is behind everything under his salvation plan for humankind. One man must die for the forgiveness of sin of many people. And it can only be done by the Son of God, the King of the Jews, the Messiah, who had laid down his life to save people from their sins.
Even Pilate wanted to save Jesus by offering a chance to set him free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting a political line against him, they shouted, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12b) Again, Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?”, “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. (John 19:15b)
As we can see here, Pilate was not in charge of the situation under all the human activities on earth. His government position and human authority from the Roman Empire did not give him the true authority in power. Humanly speaking, Pilate was afraid of an uprising in Jerusalem, and the high priests used his weak political point of loyalty to Caesar to challenge him and put him in jeopardy. Their rumour of Pilate’s disloyalty to Caesar for the King of the Jews can cost Pilate and his entire family being executed under Roman law for treason. This was the modern democratic system in its worse form: The people’s demand over the governor’s authority. Majority wins. But from heaven’s point of view, it is all under God’s plan for mankind through the sacrificial death of his Son Jesus. No one on earth can alter God’s will. No matter who they are, or what power they held on earth. The spiritual truth behind the event of Christ’s judgment and condemnation in the Romans’ hands is under God’s will, yet, those who have done evil has to take human responsibility. Just as Jesus said regarding Pilate’s authority on earth, he had no authority over Jesus if it was not under the Father’s will from above, so that Jesus, the Lamb of God from heaven, must die for the forgiveness of sins. And the timing was precisely under God’s divine planning; in verse 14, John recorded, “It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.” (John 19:14a)
Finally, Pilate gave in to the Jews, and he handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.
2) The King of the Jews on the Cross
And the soldier nailed Jesus on the Cross at Skull Hill with two others, one on the left and the other on the right, with Jesus in the middle. And the most significant thing that Apostle John had recorded is the sign that is fastened to cross. “It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19b) in all the common languages available under the Romans Empire, in Latin, Greek, and in Aramaic, the locally spoken language in Jesus’ days. Usually, the notice displays the crime committed by the crucified criminal, like such, and such a person has murdered people. Such and such a person has led an uprising against Caesar. But Jesus’ sign has nothing to do with any crime he committed; rather, it proclaimed Jesus’ true title in the display: The King of the Jews. Even the religious leaders had objected to it, but it is written as Pilate said. Under God’s plan, Jesus died for the sentence of who he is. The Messiah means the Anointed One, the Anointed King of Israel, Christos in Greek, translated as Christ in English. Jesus is the Christ, and no one other than his disciples knew about it, but now at this final moment, God has made it known to everyone who can read. This is the gospel we preach: Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. It is all planned a long time ago under God’s salvation plan and proclaimed in all the ages. So that whoever believes will have eternal life.
This sign, “King of the Jews”, was meant to be ironic. A king, stripped nearly naked and executed in public view, had obviously lost his Kingdom forever. But Jesus, who turns the world’s wisdom upside down, was just coming into his Kingdom. Each Kingdom needs a king. And our King cannot give us an eternal kingdom with eternal rule unless he first enters it. Three days later, Jesus would come back to life and live forever, and so will he rules forever in God’s Kingdom, on earth and in heavens.
Similarly, all of us who follow Jesus to the Cross will also die but live again by his power on the Cross; our sins are forgiven because he, the King of the Jews, had made an ultimate atonement for sin. By the shedding of his blood. We are healed. God count our wrongdoings in this life no more because his one and only Son had paid the penalty of death on our behalf. Jesus’ death and resurrection would strike the deathblow to Satan’s rule and establish Jesus’ eternal authority over the earth. Death will no longer have power over him, nor will death and power over us who will one day be resurrected with Christ on that glorious day.
In the first century, in that very afternoon on the first Good Friday in year 33, few people reading the sign understood its real meaning. But the sign was absolutely true. Jesus was, and still is, the King of the Jews, Gentiles, and the whole universe. He is the Messiah, the Christ of all of us here. He is the only King of Kings who is eternal. His rule and his Kingdom will never end because God alone live forever. His Kingdom is from above, and it will last forever. How much blessing we have as fellow citizens of God’s Kingdom through Jesus?
In the narrative of Christ on the Cross, Apostle John wrote three distinctive events with the symbolism behind:
The first scene is that as he was stripped nearly naked, his garment is divided among the Roman soldiers and the casting dice. This is a detailed narrative written as a testimony to fulfil Psalm 22:18, “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” This scene’s significance is that he is shown having let go of his possessions, specifically his clothing.
The second scene shows Jesus letting go of his family, specifically his mother. In verse 26, the disciple whom he loved standing nearby is Apostle John. And Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26b-27a) And from that time, his disciple looked after Mary as his own mother. Jesus, before he died, arranged for his mother and his closet disciple to care for each other and provide for one another’s needs. Just like the washing of the disciples’ feet in John 13:14, those whom Jesus has loved must fulfil that love by becoming servants to one another in mutual ministry, and in this instance, the ministry of a mother and a son, respectively. We are to love one another and serve one another as God’s family in our church.
3) “It is finished”
And then, finally, in verse 28 to 30, Jesus voluntarily gives up his life itself. Jesus showed us the full extent of his love by dying on the Cross for us. His experience of thirst in verses 28 to 29 is in close connection with death’s certainty to his body. As Psalm 22:15 foretold in details, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” No matter how great Jesus’ physical experience of thirst may have been, his last and deeper, personal need was the need to rejoin the Father. It was his death, not only his thirst, that would allow the prophecy of the Scripture to be fulfilled. The biblical testimony is that “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the day on the third day.” (Luke 24:46b)
And then, in the climax of the Gospel story, Jesus’ final word on the Cross was, “It is finished”. Verse 30, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” And what is finished? It sounds like He had completed a big project. What Jesus was referring to is that until this time, a complicated system of sacrifices had atoned for sins according to the Law of Moses. The entire book of Leviticus was just for describing all the rituals of animal sacrifices. In biblical understanding, sin separates people from God. Only through the sacrifice of an animal, a substitute, could people be forgiven and become clean before God.
Nevertheless, people sin continually, so frequent sacrifices were required. Jesus, however, became the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. This is called the Atonement. The word “finished” is the same as “paid in full”. Our debt of sin is now paid in full by Jesus’ sacrifice of his own body as the Son of God. Jesus came to finish God’s work of salvation, as Jesus spoke in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Jesus cam to pay the full penalty for our sins. With his death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon himself. The high priest and his family would have no job to do at the Day of Atonement from now on. We all can freely approach God directly because of what Jesus did for us. All who believe in Christ’s death and resurrection can live eternally with God and escape the penalty from sin. That is what is finished. We are free from the bondage of sin because Christ has paid it full on the Cross.
So we should all give thanks to God for his grace for us. It is a perfect plan of salvation, and it could only be done by Christ’s suffering and sacrifice to earn us a place in his Kingdom. This is the most precious gift from God that we can receive. Let us remember Christ’s death for our sins, along with his resurrection for our justification from sin. This is the centrepiece of the gospel. The entire Bible is pointing to this moment: Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Remember, as we all know, the truth of the gospel. Never treat the Cross lightly or with disrespect. And take our stand on the Scripture and fulfilled prophecy. Boldly we proclaim, Christ crucified for our sins, and through his death and resurrection, we receive eternal life from God.
Let us pray and then say the Apostle’s Creed together as God’s people.