The Death of God, or the Glory of a King?

John 19: 17-37
Preached @ Harambee Church by Pastor
Michael Gunn on September 9th, 2007

“In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering over the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime”
John Bowring

“God is dead. God remains dead, and we have killed Him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives!”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is a crime for a Roman citizen to be bound; it is a worse crime for him to be beaten; it is well nigh parricide for him to be killed; what am I to say if he be killed on a cross? A wicked action such as that is incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it!”
Cicero; Roman Historian 1st Century

Crucifixion was not only one of the worse imaginable forms of capital punishment known to human history, it was also despised and shameful and kept for the worst of criminals (see Galatians 3:13). Ironically for Jesus it is His place of glory (John 12:23). How is this so? So much has been made over Christ’s death over the years, from denial, to outrage, to hatred to worship. Pop culture has often referred to the cross of Jesus, from Metallica’s “God who failed,” to System of the Down’s “Self righteous suicide,” the cross of Christ has fascinated many but been completely misunderstood by most. It’s (The Cross) significance in our culture is ubiquitous warn by anyone from 50 Cent to Madonna, and most often having no power in the lives of the many that wear it. The cross has become a fashion symbol with no power! The god of their crosses is like Nietzsche’s god, functionally dead!

The cross is also an enigma. It is an event that people can’t seem to come to terms with. It is a barbaric event that God used for His own glory, and our salvation! It speaks of sin, justice, love and the wrath of God. It is a symbol of balance, hatred, grace and shame. John has been moving his gospel to this event. He has chosen certain signs as acts of Christ’s power in this world, but they only point to this event in Christ’s life as the ultimate sign of His power and His love. The cross is the defining point in human history. It is the event that unites heaven and earth, and clears the way for us to relate to God in a personal way.

I hope to explore God’s glory in Christ, through His cross!

From the Head…
John 19:17-22
We left our story with Christ being sentenced to death by the politically expedient decision of Caiaphas (The Jewish High Priest) and Pontius Pilate (The Roman Procurator). Here we pick up with Jesus being led off to His crucifixion. Verse 17 begins with a reminder of Christ’s mission here on earth (John 12:27-28). He came to get on that cross. It shows us an incredible insight into God’s sovereignty that planned the cross, but saw it executed by the plan and purposes of evil man. We are called to take up a similar cross (Matthew 12:37-39; Luke 14:26-27). The cross we are to bear is a cross that nails our idols to it. Christ died to destroy our idols and establish a loving relationship with His people. Positionally our idols are dead, experientially, they remain as powerful and alive as ever before. Our joy in Christ comes from spending our time on earth killing off these functional saviors in our life. The things that make us feel significant, worthy, loved, accepted, etc.

John’s gospel has made us keenly aware of the sovereignty of God, and he highlights by emphasizing the reaction of Pilate to Jesus, who wrote on his cross, “The king of the Jews.” This may have been done in a bit of mockery, but once again John positions Christ as the sovereign king of the nations. It is interesting that John records Pilate’s inclusion of three languages on the cross. These three languages represent the three most dominant cultures in Palestinian history at the time, and reminiscent of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 and 15). It also is a fulfillment of the Davidic covenant that promised the eternality of the Davidic throne. Jesus is more than king of the Jews; He is king of the universe! Ironically, Jesus was being killed for blasphemy and political agitation, but that very act of punishment became the source of His kingdom, and a demonstration of His sovereignty.

John 19:23-24
Here we have a set of details that appear on the surface not to matter except that they appear to be fulfilling prophetic verses regarding events in the Messiah’s life. The events in question (Dividing the cloth, casting lots for the coat) are found in Psalm 22:18; and even here it seems like an insignificant detail to warrant divine prophecy. But it is in these details that we see the design of God, and the plan of God in human history. In both Psalm 22:18, as well as the first part of John 19:23, we see the term “Himation” used for the english word “Clothes” but the latter part of John 19:23 uses the Greek word “Chiton” for the english word “garment or coat.” The difference is striking. The clothes are split into four shares because there are seems in the garment, but the coat is “Seamless” and therefore they cast lots. The coat is actually the coat (Xiton) of the high priest, accentuating the idea that ultimately Christ is our high priest, who stands between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:15-5:14). A second thing to note regarding this part of Jesus’ passion story is that the “Criminals” were stripped and crucified completely naked. This was to bring on enormous shame on these “Wicked” individuals. This was a shame/honor culture, and this type of punishment was not unusual. Revelation 3:18 and 16:15 give us insight in to the shame of nakedness and how the garments cover this nakedness. This metaphor goes back to the shame in the garden that Adam and Eve felt when they “Discovered” they were naked. Christ took on our nakedness, so that we could put on His righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10ff).

John 19:25-27
In the midst of Jesus’ anguish, He cares for His mother. It is in these verses that Jesus really begins to define what the church is all about. Church is not a building; it is a family (Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church) of relationships (see Mark 3:31-35). We are called to take care of one another, and the needs of one another (Acts 4: 32-37). Can you imagine the power of this truth? Can you imagine if we didn’t just make money to keep for ourselves, but we gave to those in need and shared what God has blessed us with for His glory!

John 19:28-30
Here is the defining, central point of the book. John has aimed us to this point, where Jesus cries out in victory; “IT IS FINISHED.” The Greek word is “Tetelesthai,” a warrior cry of victory. Positionally we live according to that victory. Experientially we live day by day in the struggle, empowered by God to fight the every day battles before us. And we are told that these battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual darkness that exist in the spiritual realm (see Ephesians 6:10-18). We can fight in confidence, because our king has one victory over sin and death!!

John 19:31-37
John continues his onslaught of apologetic writing explaining the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. He turns his attention to the fact of His sacrifice on the cross. The significance of Jesus’ bones being in tact coincides with the Hebrew law that the sacrificial lamb needed to be perfect and unblemished, with no broken bones (see Psalm 22:17, Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). Christ was unblemished (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4: 15). This was a prophecy written by David in Psalm 22 preaching the truth of the gospel before hand to the Old Testament people. Their savior would be perfect and unblemished, and “Pierced” through. This is in itself incredible since the practice of crucifixion wasn’t even invented until hundreds of years later. Zechariah 12:10 reminds us that the Messiah would take their judgment on Himself, and that “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zechariah 13:1). He is worthy (Unblemished) and He vicariously takes on the judgment of God that should be directed toward the people.

…To the Heart
Our unbelief, and our idols have placed Jesus Christ on the cross. Our skeptical musings and idolatrous worship caused Him to die on our behalf, and yet His glory is seen in His perfect love and His perfect justice. All of the shame, curses and judgment of the Old Testament law is placed on Him, and nailed to the cross, so that we could have His righteousness. In that sense, Nietzsche is correct, “God is dead, and we have killed Him.” The problem is that death is what glorifies him, and saves us! John says that he gives true testimony, “So that you also may believe!” DO you believe this? Are you still seeing God as a therapist, or as a new age guru, or as a big, bad judge? Or are you seeing Him for the loving God, who by His grace has taken the “Just” justice of His wrath upon Himself so that we could be clothed with His righteousness. Colossians 2:8-3:14 is an incredible reminder of who we are in Christ, and how we now have the power in Christ to do battle with the sin that shames us and belittles us! And when people look upon the cross they see man’s barbarism, God’s love and God’s justice united in this holy event!

For Further Reading: “The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of John” William Barclay; “The Gospel of John,” F.F. Bruce; “The New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John,” William Hendriksen; “Preaching the Word; John: That You May Believe,” R. Kent Hughes; “The NIV Application Commentary: John,” Gary M. Burge; “The Pillar NT Commentary: The Gospel According to John,” D.A. Carson; “The Word Biblical Commentary on John” George R. Beasley-Murray

Next Weeks Verses: John 19:38–42

2 comments so far

  1. Erin on

    I was immediately struck on Sunday when I heard Mike preach from this passage. What struck me the most was the description of the Xiton:

    but the coat is “Seamless” and therefore they cast lots. The coat is actually the coat (Xiton) of the high priest, accentuating the idea that ultimately Christ is our high priest, who stands between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:15-5:14).

    When I heard the coat was seamless and the garment of the high priest, the image of the Curtain that separated the Holy of Holies came right to my mind. The parallel of the Xiton, which was seamless from top to bottom and the curtain which was ripped from top to bottom; both symbols of the high priest and our separation from God. When the coat was removed from Christ, He was laid bare to us so that we too could know Him (the one true God). Just as the curtain was torn, it laid bare the Holy of Holies and removed the separation of man from God.

    The image of our perfect High Priest removing the barrier and becoming our perfect sacrifice; a lamb without blemish and without spot. Christ laying bare on the cross may have been meant for shame, but the symbol of his nakedness means that we no longer have any barriers to our High Priest, our perfect sacrifice. He gave us his coat, his Xiton to remove the veil from our eyes, our blanket of sin, and the curtain of impassible separation. Praise God!

  2. sermonrant on

    Awesome insight Erin, Thanks!

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