In the 18th century
England young boys learned to master the sea early
John was only seven when
his mother died and he was turned over by his father
to relatives to rear.
When he was eleven his
father who was a master of a ship in the
Mediterranean trade routes took him on a trip with
him. From there he became an apprentice seaman and
joined the British navy.
He was so undisciplined
that he deserted the Navy and was soon arrested,
publicly beaten and demoted. Because he couldn't
stand the navy's discipline, he deserted, fleeing to
Africa so that, in his own words, "I might sin my
fill." He soon "sank to the depths of vice."
John got into the slave
trade to satisfy his passions. He was demoted once
again and worked on the slave owner's plantation as
one of the slaves. The woman in command of the
trader's harem treated him like an animal. She hit
him and forced him to beg in the dirt for his food.
He finally escaped and
once again became a shipman. It wasn't long before
he was back to his own ways. He got the entire crew
drunk. The captain was so incensed he hit John,
knocking him overboard. He would have drowned were
it not for a sailor who speared him in his thigh
with a boat hook and pulled him back on board. The
wound left a scar big enough for the man to put his
Some time later the ship
neared the coast of Scotland and encountered a
violent storm. John's cabin was filled with seawater
and the ship was sinking. The ship's buoyant cargo
kept it afloat.
The sailors manned the
pumps for nine hours. John still recovering from the
spearing overheard a frantic crew member saying they
had no chance of survival.
John cried out to God and
for the first time in his life—prayed. "If this will
not do, the Lord have mercy on us!"
God answered that
helpless, wretched cry. The ship did not sink that
night. It was a sincere life changing prayer. John
remembered it until his death. Each year throughout
the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of
that most significant event with prayer and fasting.
John Newton emerged from
the hold of that ship to become chaplain to
England's Parliament and even preach before the king
of England. He was referred to as the second founder
of the Church of England.
We celebrate his
anniversary each time we sing his great hymn:
"Amazing grace! How sweet
That saved a wretch like
I once was lost, but now
Was blind, but now I
To John Newton's ears
there was no sweeter sound in the entire world than
God's saving grace.
Grace. God gives us what
we do not deserve. It is an act of pure love on the
part of God for sinful man. It is always unearned,
undeserved, opposed to works and absolutely free. It
is the free, divine, unmerited and undeserved favor
of God to sinful men.
How can a holy and
righteous God treat us with such grace?
There is only one answer.
It is found at the foot of the cross of Jesus. "Love
so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my
all." That is the result of grace.
"For I am determined to
know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him
crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
THE CHARACTER OF JESUS
At the cross we see a
great contrast between the holiness of God and the
reality of human depravity and sin at its worst. At
the cross we see manifest the pure love of God and
the hatred of religious leaders.
The character of
Jesus was led away at the
conclusion of six trials during the night. Like a
lamb being led away for slaughter we see Jesus as
"they bound Him, and led Him away, and delivered Him
up to Pilate the governor" (Mat. 27:2). Jesus
fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah writing
seven hundred years earlier (53:7).
"He was oppressed and He
Yet He did not open His
Like a lamb that is led
And like a sheep that is
silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His
Jesus was innocent. Judas
who had betrayed him earlier in the night came to
his senses and in remorse threw the thirty pieces of
silver to the chief priests and elders saying, "I
have sinned by betraying innocent blood" (vv. 3-4)
and then he went out and hanged himself.
Jesus was totally
unintimidated by the accusations of the chief
priests and elders. The governor asked him, "Are You
the King of the Jews?" (v. 11) As a seasoned
military man Pilate took one look at Jesus and knew
He was no "King of the Jews" in a political sense.
He knew a terrorist when he saw one and this
Galilean was not the kind of leader who could
overthrow the Romans. What kind of a king is it that
has no soldiers and no financial means of sustaining
a government? Here was a Jewish carpenter standing
before him. If Jesus said "yes" He would give the
Roman governor the idea that He was claiming to be
an earthly king, but to say "no" would deny the fact
that He was King in the kingdom of God. Jesus was a
king, but not in the political sense that Pilate
understood it. He avoided political overtones in His
answer to Pilate. Jesus is the king of the Jews.
"And while He was being
accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no
answer" (v. 12). Pilate was surprised at the silence
of Jesus and asked, "Do You not hear how many things
they testify against You?" Still Jesus "did not
answer him with regard to a single charge, so that
the governor was quite amazed" (vv. 13-14). Jesus is
in absolute command throughout even though He says
hardly a word. Prisoners on trial for their lives
would normally have been very vocal and refuted
their accusers aggressively.
superstitious wife sent to him a message while he
was in the judgment hall saying, "Have nothing to do
with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered
greatly in a dream because of Him" (v. 19).
The disciple Simon Peter
who witnessed the events that dreadful day later
wrote: "For you have been called for this purpose,
since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an
example for you to follow in His steps, who
committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His
mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in
return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but
kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges
righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His
body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and
live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were
healed" (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
The character of
depraved man revealed
If at the cross we see
the holy character of Jesus revealed we also see in
contrast the human depravity at its worst. Only
Romans had the power to put men to death in Judea.
The Jewish leaders had to bring Jesus to Roman
authorities and manipulate them to accomplish their
The thing that is hard to
comprehend is the fact that these were religious
leaders who were instigating the hatred toward
Jesus. "Now when morning came, all the chief priests
and the elders of the people conferred together
against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound
Him, and led Him away, and delivered Him up to
Pilate the governor" (vv. 1-2). These religious
leaders planned their strategy to make sure that
Jesus would be put to death. They came to their
decision during the night to put Jesus to death. By
Jewish law the sentencing had to be done in daytime.
So the highest Jewish assembly of the land came
together to ratify the decision they made during the
night. It was a mockery of justice.
These were the
best-educated, eminent, politically successful, high
minded, moral leaders in the community who met to
make their plans on how they would put Jesus to
death. But ethically and morally they were rotten at
the core. Pilate "knew that because of envy they had
delivered" Jesus up to him (v. 18). They were not
concerned with justice but with the execution of
With mob action they take
charge and manipulate the Roman governor. Pilate
thought he could match wits with these deceitful
manipulators. He came up with the ingenious idea of
saving face by offering to release to the crowd any
one prisoner whom they wanted (v. 15). He was
holding in prison "a notorious prisoner, called
Barabbas." Pilate thought surely they are sensible,
high-minded people who want justice to rule. He
offered them a choice. Surely they would choose this
innocent man Jesus instead of an insurrectionist.
"When therefore they were
gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you
want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who
is called Christ?" (v. 19).
"But the chief priests
and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for
Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death" (v. 20).
Perhaps it is true that
Barabbas' name was Jesus Bar Abbas. Although far
from unanimous, a number of translators prefer to
translate, "Jesus Barabbas." There is manuscript
evidence for the name "Jesus Barabbas." If it was in
the original the scribes may have left it out of
their copies out of reverence for Jesus the Messiah.
If so the contrast becomes even stronger. Who do you
want me to release to you Jesus bar Abbas or Jesus
The crowd shouted, "Not
Jesus the Messiah, but Jesus bar Abbas."
Pilate persisted, "Which
of the two do you want me to release for you?" And
they said, "Barabbas" (v. 21).
Pilate still persistent,
trying to get himself off the hook, "What then shall
I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" Then they all
yelled, "Let Him be crucified!" (v. 22).
Pilate responded, "Why,
what evil has he done?" But they kept on shouting
all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!" (v.
23). The governor must have thought surely ordinary
people would side with Jesus rather than a known
criminal like Barabbas. But then the crowd was not
left to make up its own mind. The Jewish leaders
persuaded the crowd and if it boiled down to a
choice between believing a Jewish leader and a Roman
governor, Pilate had no chance.
Pilate realized that
nothing more could be done. Undoubtedly he had been
acting on the assumption that he would have no
problem releasing Jesus. The question was decided by
mob hysteria. He saw that a riot was breaking out so
he took water and washed his hands in front of the
multitude, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's
blood; see to that yourselves" (v. 24; cf. Deut.
"And all the people
answered sand said, 'His blood be on us and on our
children!'" (v. 26).
In the Old Testament
"blood" refers to a violent death such as murder or
execution. He tries to relieve his own guilt saying,
"This is something for which you will have to
answer. I am not responsible for this man's death."
Pilate released Barabbas
and turned Jesus the Messiah over to be crucified.
As Pilate had done on previous occasions he caved in
to the pressures of the Jewish leaders.
THE CRUCIFIXION OF
"Then he released
Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged,
he handed Him over to be crucified" (v. 26). "And
when they had crucified Him . . ." (v. 35).
The crucifixion took
place at Golgotha, translated the place of the
"skull" perhaps because it took the shape of a skull
off in the distance. The word Calvary comes through
the Latin calvaria, meaning skull.
The first step to the
crucifixion was a thorough scourging of the victim.
The scourging or whipping itself was a brutal form
of torture. The scourge reduced the body to raw
inflamed flesh and a bleeding mass. Men died under
the scourge, lost their reason, few remained
conscious to the end of it. Before delivering Jesus
over to crucifixion they "scourged" Him. This was a
terrible torture in itself. The victim was stripped;
his hands were tied so he was bent double and tied
to a short post. The lash was a long leather tong,
studded at intervals with sharp pieces of bone,
pellets of lead, pieces of sharp glass and fish
The crucifixion was the
most terrible and cruel death which man has ever
devised for taking vengeance on his fellowman. It
was the cruelest invention of depraved minds for
bringing prolonged, slow, excruciating suffering
The Roman historian
Cicero wrote, "Let it never come near the body of a
Roman citizen: nay, not even near his thoughts, or
eyes, or ears."
Execution by crucifixion
goes back to the Persian idolatry. The Persians
believed the earth was sacred to their god Ormuzd.
For them it was criminal for anyone to be killed on
the earth so they lifted the body up above it so as
not to defile that which was sacred.
The Phoenicians tried all
forms of death to see which was most painful. They
experimented with it just like Hitler's doctors, so
called, did in World War II. The Phoenicians tried
death by stoning, spearing, boiling in oil,
strangulations, drowning and burning. These were all
They chose crucifixion
because it was slow, humiliating, painful, and in
public view so that it left an indelible warning to
everyone who witnessed it. It was the most terrible
and violent death ever devised. Cicero said, "It was
the most cruel and horrible of tortures."
This form of execution
was so cruel that Roman soldiers often even denied
burial to the victim, allowing his body to hang on
the cross until it literally disintegrated. Pain,
torture of insects and animals, view of brutal
spectators, horror of rigid fixation, combined to
make it a supreme humiliation and torture. He was
already a bleeding mass who was left to die to
the remains of a young man who had been crucified
with his forearms nailed to the cross and his legs
bent at the knees and broken. His legs were pulled
over one another in such a way that an iron nail was
driven through both heels together.
According to Jewish law
anyone who was crucified was considered cursed of
God (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13).
It was illegal to inflict
it on any Roman citizen. All ancient writers
regarded crucifixion as "the most shameful of
deaths" and appropriate only for slaves and
criminals. It was an extremely painful and slow way
There was also the
intense emotional suffering of Jesus. Nothing could
have prepared Him for the emotional evils heaped
upon Him that day.
Roman soldiers gathered
around Jesus in the Praetorium and "they stripped
Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him" (vv. 27-28).
This robe was a short military cloak which kings and
emperors as well as soldiers wore. Then they wove a
"crown of thorns" and pressed it on His head, "and a
reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before
Him and mocked Him, saying 'Hail, King of the
Jews!'" (v. 29). The soldiers made mockery of the
King of kings in their trappings of royalty.
The last of King David's
dynasty was wrapped in a symbol of our sins so we
could be clothed in His perfect righteousness. He
was crowned with a "crown of thorns" the one who
alone is worthy of many crowns. They had waited a
thousand years for the arrival of the King of the
Jews and when He came they crucified Him. What an
insult to the King of Glory. To add insult to injury
they put a banner over His head, "THIS IS JESUS THE
KING OF THE JEWS" (v. 37).
They showed their
contempt and hatred by spitting upon His naked body
and took the reed and began to continually beat Him
on the head (v. 30). They insulted the king of kings
by putting a stick in his hands as a royal scepter.
"After they had mocked Him, they took His robe off
and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to
crucify Him" (v. 31).
The crucified were hung
naked on the cross. When the Roman soldiers lifted
Him up on the cross they took His garments and
divided them up among themselves and sat down to
keep watch over at His naked bleeding body as if to
prevent His friends from rescuing Him from the cross
They considered Jesus the
worst of the criminals so they crucified Him with
two robbers, one on the right and one on the left.
Isaiah had poetically written centuries earlier the
awesome truth of this day:
"Therefore, I will allot
Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the
booty with the strong;
Because He poured out
Himself to death,
And was numbered with the
Yet He Himself bore the
sin of many,
And interceded for the
The humiliation of the
crucifixion would be bad enough, but the passersby
came up "hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads,
and saying 'You who destroy the temple and rebuild
it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son
of God, come down form the cross'" (v. 39-40).
Spectators coming and going from the city made good
of their insults and kept up their of blasphemy of
Jesus. The moving by nodding the head toward the
cross was a contemptuous gesture of scorn and
insult. They sneeringly suggested that this was the
end of the Messiah. To show their derision they
tossed their heads at Him as an insult.
"If you are the Son of
God," reminds us of the temptations of Jesus in the
wilderness at the beginning of His ministry (Matt.
4:3, 6). "If you really are God's Son, then free
yourself and come down from the cross!"
Phillips translates, "If
this is the king of Israel, why doesn't He come down
from the cross now, and we will believe Him!" If He
is the Messiah who can perform miracles then now is
the time for Him to perform the supreme miracle and
then we will believe He is the Messiah.
The chief priests,
scribes and elders keep stirring up the crows
saying, "He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He
is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the
cross, and we shall believe in Him. 'He trusts in
God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure
in Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (v. 42).
It is surprising that religious people of their
prominence should be present at a crucifixion, much
less on the Day of Preparation for the Passover.
He stayed on the
cross because He was the Son of God.
This abusive rabble went
on for three hours and then God pulled the curtain
on the show. Suddenly supernatural "darkness fell
upon the last until the ninth hour (3 p.m.)" (v.
45). It was divine intervention. Darkness is
associated with judgment in the Old Testament
prophets (Isa. 5:30; 13:10-11; Joel 3:14-15). A hush
of silence fell over the land as the divine sufferer
hung there in humiliation and shame as God judged
The physical and
emotional suffering doesn't tell us all the story.
There was an intense spiritual suffering on the
cross. It was about three in the afternoon when
Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, "ELI, ELI,
LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY
HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?" (v. 46; cf. Ps. 22:1).
The word "forsaken" here
means "to leave," "down, in." Hence it mans "to
forsake someone" in a state of defeat, or
helplessness, or in the midst of hostile
circumstances. It has the idea of leaving someone,
abandoning, deserting, leaving in straits, to leave
helpless or to let one down. It is the anguish of
Now the most intense form
of suffering takes place on the cross. The sinless,
righteous Son of God is dying as a spiritual
sacrifice for our sins. It was so intense that
Martin Luther declared, "God forsaken of God, who
can understand that!" It was the cry of God!
Why had God the Father
forsaken God the Son? This is part of the terrible
price of putting away sin!
During His whole life up
to this point Jesus enjoyed a unique one of a kind
fellowship with His heavenly Father and now in His
death there is a total abandonment by His Father.
Jesus Christ was made
sin. God is a holy and righteous God who cannot bear
to look upon sin. "The wages of sin is death." On
Jesus representatively fell the collective
consequence of your sin and mine. God made Him our
representative for sin and He died in our place.
For the first time in
eternity the intimate sweet holy fellowship between
the Father and the Son was broken. Never before,
even for a moment, was the perfect relationship
between the Father and the Son ever broken. And now
at a point in time this oneness that existed down
through eternity was broken, not because of
something He had done, but because of sin, your sins
and mine. The unbroken communion between the Father
and the Son was mysteriously broken. Jesus gave
expression to that terrible sense of abandonment.
In that moment the weight
of the sins of all humanity from eternity to
eternity fell on Jesus. The combined sins of the
entire world, of all the accumulated sins of
everyone who had ever lived, and everyone who would
ever live, were laid on the One individual who never
"Why?" Why? Why?
"He [God] made Him [Jesus
Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so
that we might become the righteousness of God in
Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Isaiah in his powerful
poem of the Suffering Servant eloquently writes:
"Surely our griefs He
And our sorrows He
Yet we ourselves esteemed
Smitten of God, and
But He was pierced
through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our
The chastening for our
well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we
All of us like sheep have
Each of us has turned to
his own way;
But the Lord has caused
the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him" (Isaiah
In verse ten the prophet
goes on to tell us that Christ was the offering for
"But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him
If He would render
Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of
the Lord will prosper in His hand."
This divine "guilt
offering" or "trespass" offering was the sacrifice
paid by the soul of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh
by submitting to the violent death on the cross. His
death to all who will come to Him and put their
trust in Him discharges the guilt or debt and sets
them free. This Suffering Servant of Yahweh is the
end of all the Jewish sacrifices. He is the
satisfaction of the justice of God. He is the climax
of all the sacrifices in the Old Testament. This is
why He had to die.
Matthew tells us that
after Jesus had cried those awesome words from the
cross He "cried out with a loud voice, and yielded
up His spirit" (v. 50). He died. It was customary
for the Romans to leave a crucified body on the
cross until it rotted. Pilate conceded to the
religious customs of the Jews and allowed the bodies
to be taken down. Post mortem set in and they took
Him down from the cross and buried Him in a tomb not
Augustine correctly said,
"He gave up His life because He willed it, when He
willed it, and as He willed it." Even in His death
he was sovereign and He had control over it.
A group of Roman soldiers
were assigned by Pilate to stand guard at the tomb.
They closely guarded the grave to prevent anyone
from stealing the body. The Jewish leaders wanted
impartial guards, Romans, not temple guards posted
at the tomb. A group of Roman soldiers were
stationed there and made the tomb secure by putting
a rope over the stone and then a seal of wax with an
insignia of the Jewish authorities was attached to
it. They put their mark on it so as to know if the
stone was moved. They left the soldiers there to
guard the tomb.
Matthew is not telling us
that the divine Spirit departed from Jesus before He
died. He is no Gnostic. To "give up the spirit" is a
Hebrew idiom that simply means Jesus died. We use
the expression in English, "to breathe one's last."
There were all kinds of
reactions that day to what transpired on the cross.
People reacted in various ways such as they do
The response of the
For some it was a time of
amusement. They passed by to entertain themselves.
"And some of those who were standing there, when
they heard it, began saying, 'This man is calling
for Elijah.' And immediately one of them ran, and
taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and
put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest
of them said, 'Let us see whether Elijah will come
to save Him'" (vv. 47-49).
Come to the show. Let's
see the gladiators tonight. Let's see if this is
really Son of God.
executioner was terribly frightened at the evens
that day. "Now the centurion, and those who were
with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the
earthquake and the things that were happening,
became very frightened and said, 'Truly this was the
Son of God!'" (v. 54).
The Roman soldiers,
seeing and experiencing all the events of the trials
and execution of this righteous man declared what
the unbelieving Jews refused to admit, Jesus really
is the Son of God.
Still there were others
that day who reached out and ministered to Jesus.
"Many women were there looking on from a distance,
who had followed Jesus from Galilee while
ministering to Him. Among them were Mary Magdalene,
and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the
mother of the sons of Zebedee. When it was evening,
there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph,
who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus"
(vv. 55-57). Joseph took the body down from the
cross, after Pilate had Jesus certified dead, "and
wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in
his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock;
and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of
the tomb and went away" (v. 60). M. R. Vincent says,
"The idea is that they sealed the stone in the
presence of the guard, and then left them to keep
watch. It would be important that the guard would
witness the sealing. The sealing was performed by
stretching a cord across the stone and fastening it
to the rock at either end by means of sealing clay.
When God raised Jesus
from the dead He demonstrated His sovereignty over
the powers of the Jews and the Romans. The Lord God
After Jesus had risen
from the dead three days later many worshipped Him.
Those who came to continue with His burial were
told, "I know you are looking for Jesus who has been
crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as
he said, Come, see the place where He was lying. . .
And they came up and took hold of His feet and
worshipped Him" (28:5-6, 9).
The resurrection is the
undeniable demonstration and evidence of the fact
that the suffering servant has accomplished His
work. He had provided salvation by going to the
cross and dying for us. God now reaches down to us
depraved sinners and offers us salvation by grace
alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
The curtain separating
the holy place from the most holy of holies was torn
from top to bottom (Ex. 26:31-35; 40:21). God tore
it in two! He opened a way into His presence for all
who will believe on Jesus as their only means of
The resurrection of Jesus
brought about the resurrection of His people (vv.
52-53). The rending of the temple veil makes it
clear that the only way to God is open to all who
come. Moreover, the raising of the dead saints
declares that death has been conquered. Here is a
promise of the great final resurrection of those who
die "in Christ."
Our response today
What is your response to
the death of the Son of God?
"For God so loved the
world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life" (John 3:16). No one can ever say God
does not love him or her. He has demonstrated that
love once and for all in sending His sinless son to
die on the cross for your sins. God loves you and
has demonstrated that love.
Jesus did not come and
die for good people. He came and died for sinners.
He died for those of us who have come short of God's
expectations of us. He died for those of us who have
offended Him. The truth is we are so condemned that
there is nothing that you or I can ever do to merit
or gain salvation. All of our goodness is as dirty,
soiled, filthy rags. They soil anything they touch.
Anything we touch brings condemnation. Our sins are
so deep, so bad they need surgical treatment for a
permanent cure. Isaiah wrote in 1:6,
"From the sole of the
foot even to the head
There is nothing sound in
Only bruises, welts and
Not pressed out or
Nor softened with oil."
This is why Jesus went to
the cross. You and I needed radical spiritual
surgery to solve our problems. That is how sinful we
are in God's eyes. "Without the shedding of blood
there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22).
"For while we were still
helpless, at the right time Christ died for the
ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love
toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ
died for us" (Romans 5:6, 8).
Because Jesus went to the
cross and died for you God now offers you salvation.
It is His free gift to you. It is already paid in
full. There are no strings attached, no
manipulations, no gimmicks, etc. All you have to do
is humble yourself and receive it. "Believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." The
apostle Paul wrote, "that if you confess with your
mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that
God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for
with the heart a person believes, resulting in
righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,
resulting in salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10).
What will you do with
27:1-61 The Cross of Jesus
Series: Life of