Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
Good Friday – April 2, 2021
Jesus: Victim or Lord? (revised from 2002)
Turn to John 19:14–30 and please follow along as I read.
14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified. 17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’ ” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”; this was to fulfill the Scripture: “They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. 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 then 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!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
The Scripture readings tonight have focused on the prophecies about the crucifixion of the Messiah and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ as described here in John 19. Those prophecies assure us that Jesus was not caught unaware by the events that unfolded that resulted in His crucifixion. He was not a helpless victim. All of it had been foretold more than a thousand years before in the case of Psalm 22 and more than 700 years earlier in the case of Isaiah 53. Jesus knew what was going to happen and willingly endured it for the results it would bring. Hebrews 12:2 describes that – “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That is an important point to mention anytime the subject of Jesus’ crucifixion is discussed. If a person does not fully understand who Jesus is and how the events of Jesus’ crucifixion came about, it is easy to perceive Jesus as the victim of cruel Jewish religious leaders who manipulated the Roman governmental authorities into murdering Jesus for them. Tragically, that idea has resulted in terrible anti-Semitism over the centuries including cruel persecution and murder of Jews by those who claim to be Christians. Such attitudes and actions are completely contrary to what Jesus’ followers are to be like, but that is the record of history nevertheless.
Levels of anti-Semitism dropped after WW II when the extent of the tragedy of the holocaust became known, but in the last several decades it has been increasing as anti-Semitic mythology and stereo-typing becomes more widespread. Between that and Biblical ignorance anti-Semitism is also showing up in churches in which it would not be expected. Hatred for Jewish people in the present as being responsible for what a few Jewish people did related to the crucifixion of Jesus some 400 or so generations ago is wrong, but there is nothing unusual about people having wrong attitudes and doing evil deeds because of wrong belief.
At the heart of anti-Semitic attitudes based on the crucifixion of Jesus is a theological problem. Who is to blame for Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion? If blame must be fixed, then we need to look back at the details of the story to see what actually happened and why.
First of all, there is no escaping the fact that certain Jewish religious leaders were responsible. We know that they had been plotting to destroy Jesus since He first cleansed the temple in His first year of ministry (Mark 11:18). Previous attempts to kill Jesus fell through. They tried to cast Him off the cliff at Nazareth, but He passed through their midst and went His way (Luke 4:28-30). John 8 and John 10 record two different times they sought to stone Jesus, but both times He eluded them. Several times they sought to seize Him, but were not successful for various reasons including fear of the people (Matthew 21:45-46; Luke 20:19; John 7:30; 11:57). They had paid greedy Judas 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus at a time when there would not be any danger of interference from the crowds that held Jesus to be a prophet (Matt. 26:15), which they did in the Garden of Gethsemane late at night (Matt. 26:47-56). They conducted illegal trials at night for the same reason (Matt. 26:57-68). They then pressured Pilate, the Roman procurator, to do what he did not want to do and crucify Jesus by threatening him and working up the mob that had gathered outside the praetorium into crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion even to the point of saying “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25). But even if in saying this they could bring a curse upon themselves, this is only a very small group of Jews at a particular place and time and not all Jews then or for all times.
In addition, Ezekiel 18:20 states “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” It is against what God has declared in the Scriptures hold people today responsible for the sinful actions of their ancestors.
But what about the involvement of the Romans? Some try to absolve Pilate because he tried to release Jesus. It is good and fine that he tried to find a way to release Jesus at least three different times, but the fact remains that he did not do so even though he continued to declare afer examining Jesus “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). Pilate then told them again that neither he nor Herod had found any thing in Jesus deserving of death, but he would scourge Jesus and then release Him (Luke 23:14-16). He then offered to appease the crowd by releasing Jesus as part of a custom associated with Passover of releasing a prisoner, but the crowd shouted for Barabbas, a notorious criminal, to be released and for Jesus to be crucified (Matthew 27:15-21). Pilate argued with them that he found no guilt in Jesus but he could not satisfy them. He had Jesus scourged and brought Him out bloody and wearing a purple robe, and pronounced once again that he found no guilt in Jesus, but now he becomes indifferent to Jesus telling the crowd shouting for Jesus to be crucified, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31). They answered him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” John then adds a very important comment that this was to fulfill the kind of death Jesus had to die. The Jews had killed people previously by stoning without Roman permission, and they had attempted to kill Jesus earlier. They were not concerned about having permission to murder Jesus. This was done as a political move to deflect the anger of the crowds that were favorable to Jesus by making it appear that Jesus was a victim of Roman law.
Pilate attempted to release Jesus, but he ultimately failed because he was weak and unjust. Matthew 27:24 records that Pilate took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; se to that yourselves.” He then bowed to the threats and turned an innocent man over to be crucified. No amount of washing Pilate did could remove the guilt of such injustice regardless of what he thought. In addition, Pilate turned Jesus over to Roman soldiers to be crucified. Such soldiers were under his authority and carrying out his orders, not those of any of the Jewish leaders. Pilate and Roman injustice was also culpable.
As theological understanding increases, a person comes to understand that not only were the Jews and Romans responsible, but the purpose for which Jesus died makes all people culpable. The reason for the cross was the payment of the price of man’s sin. It was the sin of every human put that Jesus on the cross, but that brings up another very important fact.
Jesus in Control
Jesus did not suffer and die as a victim, but as the Lord who was in control during every event that happened. Judas sold out and betrayed Jesus, but no army could be large enough to capture Jesus unless He assented to the arrest. Do you remember what happened when Jesus first identified Himself to the mob Judas led to the Garden of Gethesemane? John 18:3-6 describes this mob as including a cohort of Roman soldiers along with officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees. Jesus asked them, “Whom do you seek”? They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus answered simply saying, “I, I AM,” and all of them drew back and fell to the ground. No army could capture Jesus without His consent. Peter even had to learn that lesson, for he had taken his short sword out to defend Jesus and had already swung and cut of the ear of Malchus, the slave of the high priest. Jesus then told Peter to put the sword away and after healing the man’s ear He told Peter, “53 “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54).
It is very important to understand that Jesus did not die as a victim, but as Lord. In John 10:17-18, Jesus said, “for this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again, No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” Jesus yielded His life according to the will of His Father in exactly the manner necessary to demonstrate the reason for His death. That was His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though His emotions were so great as He considered what was about to happen, His prayer was “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, You will be done” (Matthew 26:42). He was carrying out the Father’s will just as He had said in John 8:28-29, 28 “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
We find a theme traced throughout John about the manner in which Jesus would die. In John 3:14 Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” In John 12:33 Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” John comments, “But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” As already pointed out in John 18:32, the Jews could not kill Him in their previous attempts because Jesus had to die on a cross in Roman crucifixion. Why? Because as Galatians 3:13 points out, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” The cross is the demonstration of Jesus taking on the curse of our sin on our behalf. Jesus who knew no sin took on our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
The timing of Jesus’ death was also under His control. Attempts to stone Jesus or push Him off a cliff did not work not only because they were the wrong methods, but also they were attempted at the wrong time. They sought to seize Jesus at two previous times, but the Scriptures state emphatically that “His hour had not yet come” (John 7:30; 8:20). Jesus was still in the region of Galilee when He began to warn His disciples of what would happen when in Jerusalem at the Feast of Passover. 21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (See also Matthew 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:2) because He knew when His hour had come (John 12:23; 13:1; 16:21; 17:1).
Jesus is Lord, not a victim. The Jews who cried out for His blood and Pilate along with his soldiers were responsible for physically putting Jesus to death, but Jesus was not their victim. Jesus allowed it only because it fulfilled the Father’s will in redeeming sinful mankind from their sin. The reality is Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross and crucified because it was the only way to resolve the problem of man’s sin. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus died as the payment for sin.
Paul makes an interesting comment that is relevant to this in Colossians 2:13-14, 13 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” When the Roman crucified someone they often put a sign on the cross that indicated the crime the person committed that was resulting in their execution. That is why Pilate had a sign put on Jesus’ cross that said, “The King of the Jews.” Paul remarks here that the crimes – the certificates of debt consisting of decrees against us – nailed to the cross were our own sins for which Jesus paid with His own life. That was the purpose of crucifixion. That was the reason Jesus became a man and went to calvary willingly. No army could have forced Him there. No contingent of guards could have kept Him there. And no stakes nailed through His feet and hands could have held Him on the cross if He wanted to come off. It was Jesus’ love for the Father in redeeming us that held Him there.
Jesus was not a victim. He is Lord even over His own death.