Who Were Responsible?
“Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him! … Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified” (John 19:15-16). As we stand at the foot of the cross, we recall the scene of the final handover before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Who were responsible for Jesus’ death? Judas ‘handed him over’ to the guards and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees at Gethsemane. Next the chief priests ‘handed him over’ to Pilate, who later ‘handed him over’ to the Roman soldiers. The conspiracy was a combination of a betrayer’s greed, the Jewish leaders’ envy and Pilate’s cowardice and ambition. Jesus was charged with religious blasphemy in the Jewish court and politically he was charged with sedition in the Roman court.
Jesus went to the cross willingly and deliberately. With all cruelty and ridicule pouring over Him, Jesus still prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His first utterance on the cross is a word of forgiveness!
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Yes, we were there . . . not as spectators, but as guilty participants. As we face the cross, we shall say to ourselves ‘we did it, our sins sent him there.’
Jesus, Remember Me . . .
The dialogue between the two criminals hanging on either side of Jesus is worth noting. One of them feared God, acknowledged his sin and his due punishment. He made a sincere, yet astounding plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus gave him hope with a word of salvation.
Are we better than the criminals on the cross? No! No way! We are all equally guilty. God requires absolute perfection. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:24). We need to discard our self-righteous Pharisaism in order to realize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
We have to renounce our own goodness and rely only on the righteousness of God in Jesus. God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us. Our sin is charged to Him and His righteousness is credited to us.
Where Were the Others?
While on the cross Jesus was still concerned for others as shown in his third utterance. “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27). He showed his special love for his mother and the disciple, apparently, John, into whose care he entrusted her.
Where were the other disciples? They were fearful and had fled earlier at the very moment of Jesus’ arrest. Didn’t Peter say that he would lay down his life for Jesus? He even drew his sword in a frantic attempt to avert Jesus’ arrest. Then Peter followed closely but at the high priest’s courtyard he denied Jesus thrice. One would have expected him to turn up at the foot of the cross later after a good cry, but he did not. Weren’t Jesus’ teaching and ministries enough? Weren’t His miracles convincing enough to His disciples that He is the Son of God? Their Messiah? Hadn’t Jesus prepared them adequately, repeatedly saying ‘the hour has come’?
Rather than questioning others, we should be asking ourselves, “Under such circumstances and at such a time, as Jesus’ disciple, would I have been there?” Why not?
Utterances About Himself
It was at the third hour (9 a.m.) that Jesus was crucified. At the sixth hour (12 noon) the darkness came over the whole land. At the ninth hour (3 p.m.), emerging out of the darkness, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)?
Almost immediately after the cry, Jesus uttered three more words or sentences in quick succession. “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). “It is finished” (John 19:30). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). These are words of abandonment, distress, triumph and reunion.
Why is the cross necessary? Why doesn’t God just simply forgive us? It is not merely an issue of the forgiveness of our sins, but also the divine reaction in love and wrath towards us as guilty sinners. It is a matter of God as who He is and us as who we are. As John Stott stated in his book ‘The Cross of Christ’, the crucial question is – How could God express his holy love? – his love in forgiving sinners without compromising his holiness, and his holiness in judging sinners without frustrating his love.
The divine holiness and human sin are incompatible. Jesus, with His unique perfections as the God-man, performed the reconciliatory work as He gave Himself up to death. Jesus died without sin in substitution of our sins. He took the ‘bitter cup’ in obedience to the Father’s will as the sacrificial Lamb on the cross.
Jesus had completed the work He came to do on the cross. The loud shout of victory “It is finished!”, is in the original text a single word “tetelestai”. It means paid in full. He had paid the full ransom for our redemption. Being in the perfect tense, it means ‘it has been and will forever remain finished.’
Living Under the Cross
Today, we live under the new covenant of the blood. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper oblige us to look back to the cross of Christ. We remember with gratitude Christ’s suffering and accomplishment for us.
How shall we live under the cross?
Firstly, we must put to death our sin, a legal death unto sin once and for all. Paul wrote in Gal. 2:20a “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” It happens by virtue of our union with His death and resurrection. The cross is the ground for our justification.
Secondly, we are to crucify the flesh as stated in Gal. 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” It is death to our old nature. It also speaks of our freedom from the dominion of the flesh. Therefore, the cross is also the means of our sanctification.
Thirdly, the cross also calls for self-denial. Jesus said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Besides referring to the crucifixion of the fleshly nature, it also has the connotation of martyrdom. Paul also mentioned in 2 Cor. 4:9-10 about carrying around the death of Jesus in our bodies, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our bodies. We must be prepared to face persecution, suffering and even physical death for the sake of the cross.
Moreover, the cross of Christ is also an object of boasting (Gal. 6:14). We must learn from Paul to have our whole world in orbit around the cross. We need to rehearse the gospel of the cross daily to enable us to live victoriously in every sphere of our Christian life. The cross is no longer an emblem of shame and disgrace. It has become the symbol of love, salvation, power and glory.
All these were made possible because of what happened at Calvary. We were there when Jesus Christ our Lord was crucified.
Dr Wong Sung Ging
Emmanuel Methodist Church, Bintulu