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April 1, 2021
16 So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 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 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!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This passage describes Jesus’ final hours as he is shamefully put to death on a Roman cross. The inscription Pilate places on the cross was meant to be a form of mockery as well as a deterrent. Any “would-be Messiahs” who claim to be “The King of the Jews” could expect to meet a similar fate. The irony is that Pilate’s words are more true than even he knows. For the cross is the moment when Jesus is fully and finally revealed as God’s true king.
What follows only confirms that Jesus is unlike any king the world has ever known. This king is robbed of all dignity and executed like a common criminal. He experiences utter degradation as he is stripped naked and watches on as the soldiers gamble for his clothing. But in his death we see that he has stooped down to the lowest levels of suffering and shame, making it impossible for us to ever say to Jesus: “You don’t know what it is like.” Jesus is a man of sorrows, fully acquainted with grief. He not only died in our place, he was shamed in our place.
This king has been abandoned by all his closest followers in his greatest hour of need. Only one, presumably John, is willing to gather near the cross with some of the women, including Jesus’ mother, to watch the horrific ordeal unfold. Most likely John was the youngest of the disciples and therefore, like the women, was not considered a threat by the authorities. Jesus demonstrates remarkable compassion. Even in his final moments filled with excruciating pain, his primary concern is not for himself but for others. From the cross he entrusts John and his mother Mary into one another’s care.
This king may be pinned down with iron spikes, yet he nevertheless remains fully in control. In order to fulfill the Scripture, he says, “I thirst.” The one who is the very fountain of life becomes thirsty on the cross. The one who began his ministry by turning water into fine wine is offered cheap wine in the end. But knowing that he has accomplished everything the Father entrusted to him, Jesus says, “It is finished.” With that he bows his head and gives up his spirit. This king determines even the moment of his death.
The expression, “It is finished,” is actually only one word in Greek. It was a phrase that was often written on a bill that had been paid to say “Paid in full.” Jesus has done it. Through his death, Jesus has paid the price on our behalf. Nothing more will ever be required. He has paid it all.
This is a king who is shamed so that we might be honored, stripped so that we might be clothed, robbed so that we might be enriched, abandoned so that we might be adopted, killed so that we might live. The only appropriate response to the cross is wonder, love, and praise.
What can we learn from Jesus’ other-centered love even in the midst of torture and death?