************ Sermon on John 19:19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 6, 2007
"The King of the Jews"
Good Friday, 2007
I The Sign on the Cross
A A sign. Do you see the sign? A sign above the middle cross. A witness, a mute witness, but still a witness to Whom Jesus is. The speechless witness of the sign above the bloody head of Jesus proclaims, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." "This is the King!" That is what the sign is proclaiming. That is its testimony. That is its witness.
B "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." The sign is written in three languages. It testifies in three languages. Hebrew: the sacred language of the Scriptures of Israel. Latin: the language of the Roman conqueror, the language of a vast empire whose motto was "for the senate and people of Rome." Greek: from Great Britain to Africa, from the borders of Scotland to the frontiers of Arabia, it was the language of business and commerce, it was the language of learning and wisdom, it was the language of the ordinary people.
The sign was phrased in the sacred and secular languages of the time. It was a sign for all the world to see. It was a witness to Jew and Gentile. It was a witness to residents of Israel, officials of Rome, and merchants and pilgrims from all over the Empire. Everyone who passed by that cross, regardless of nationality or race or language, was able to read the testimony of that sign.
C "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." The scribes and the Pharisees do not like the sign. "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews" (Jn 19:21). You see, the chief priests had rejected Jesus as King. In fact, they went so far as to accept the rule of Caesar. To Pilate they said, "We have no king but Caesar" (Jn 19:15).
"We have no king but Caesar." These are the leaders of God's people speaking. The religious authorities. Those who know and study the Scriptures. They know the story of King Saul. Of how Israel rejected God and asked for a king like the other nations. Of how angry this made God. And now they acknowledge Caesar to be their only king. Like the people of Samuel's day, they are rejecting the rule of God.
"We have no king but Caesar." These are the leaders of God's people speaking. The religious authorities. Those who know and study the Scriptures. They know the promises about a Messiah, about a future King, a Ruler Who could show up at any time. But they turn their back on all those promises. They pick Caesar over the Messiah.
How dare they accuse Jesus of blasphemy!
D "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Why did Pilate post that sign? It was the custom, back then, to post the charges against a condemned man. It was the custom to hang over a cross the crimes the accused had been found guilty of. So Pilate put that sign there. He put it there as the representative of the greatest political power on earth. He put it there as a sign of mockery. He is not mocking Jesus so much as he is mocking the Jews. He is having a bit of fun at the expense of the Jews. He is teasing them that their king, "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS," is hanging on a cross. He is reminding them that they are a conquered people, a vanquished people, a people under Roman rule, a people whose king is on the Roman tree.
E "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." I see a similarity here between Pilate and Caiaphas. Caiaphas, if you remember, was the high priest, the leader of the Sanhedrin. It is he who proposed that Jesus be killed. He listened to the chief priests and Pharisees gripe and complain about Jesus, His teaching, His miracles, His popularity. Then he admonished them all:
(Jn 11:50) "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."
"One man die for the people." In saying this Caiaphas spoke the truth about Jesus. He did so unknowingly. He did so out of ignorance and fear. But he had no choice. God used him. God put those thoughts in his mind and those words in his mouth. The Apostle John writes:
(Jn 11:51-52) He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, (52) and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
"JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." In writing this on the sign, Pilate was writing the truth about Jesus. Like Caiaphas he did so unknowingly. Like Caiaphas he did so out of ignorance and fear. Like Caiaphas he had no choice. God used him. God put those thoughts in his mind. God forced him to write those words on the sign.
II What Kind of King?
A "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Jesus is King. But what kind of King is He?
Take a look at the beginning of our Scripture reading. There we see the Roman soldiers having fun with Him. There we see a mock coronation. Jesus is given a crown – a crown of thorns (Jn 19:2). Jesus is given a robe – a purple robe (Jn 19:2). Jesus is given royal homage again and again – "Hail, king of the Jews!" (Jn 19:3). And they struck Him in the face (Jn 19:3).
The chapter begins with a mock coronation. It continues with the presentation of the King to His royal subjects. When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to the Jews, "Here is the man!" (Jn 19:5).
"Crucify! Crucify!" That's how they respond to King Jesus (Jn 19:6). They reject Him as King.
Now the royal procession begins. It is a coronation route. The road is lined with onlookers – shouting, clamoring, crying out. They are pressing for a closer look at the man Who would be King. A King Who shoulders His own cross. A King Who carries His throne upon His back. A King Who trudges the weary steps to where His throne will be set up. A King Who carries His throne outside the gate, outside the wall, to Golgotha. And there, outside the wall, the royal procession ends. The enthronement of the King begins. He is laid on His throne. He is fixed to it with nails and spikes. He is lifted up between two thieves. A sign is fixed over His head: "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Don't forget, crucifixion was for criminals. In the Roman Empire it was murderers, rebels, and terrorists who were executed on crosses. "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS" is executed upon the cross as if He were a common criminal. John's emphasis is on the King's humiliation.
Are you starting to see what kind of King this is? He is the Suffering King.
B "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Don't forget Who it is that is hanging there upon the tree under the sign. Earlier in the Gospel He is called "the Word become flesh" (Jn 1:14). Are we to imagine the Word of God nailed to a cross? The Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God? Yes we are!
John's Gospel calls Him the "I AM": "I am the bread of life" (Jn 6:48); "I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12); "I am the gate for the sheep" (Jn 10:7); "I am the good shepherd" (Jn 10:14); "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25); "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6); "I am the true vine" (Jn 15:1). Are we to imagine the "I AM" hung on a cross? The I AM that is God's equal, the I AM that is God, the I AM that has kingdom and power and glory from eternity and to eternity? Yes we are!
Are you starting to see what kind of King this is upon the cross? He is the Eternal One. The great "I AM." He is the One Who would one day conquer Rome. He is the One before Whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
C "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." It is a mistake to think that this King on the tree is the passive victim of the hostile forces around Him. It is a mistake to think that Jesus is under the control of others. Judas, the soldiers, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the mob – they have no more control over Him than does a flea have control of the dog upon which it hides.
Did you hear Jesus' words to Pilate? "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (Jn 19:11). These are not the words of a victim, are they? Rather, these are the words of One sovereignly in charge. These are the words of One Who goes to the cross because He chooses to go to the cross. This is the One Who says to the arresting party, "I am he" (Jn 18:6), and they fall to the ground. This is the One Who tells His disciples to put their swords away because He must drink the cup the Father has given Him (Jn 18:11). This is the One Who takes up His own cross (did you notice, John does not tell us about Simon of Cyrene). Jesus takes up His cross because He knows what He must do to save His people, to redeem His lambs, to deliver His sheep from their sins. This is the One Who bows His head and gives up His spirit (Jn 19:30). This King upon the cross is sovereign, He is in charge, He is in control.
D "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." In John's Gospel the cross is the royal throne of Jesus. The crucifixion is the glorification of Christ as King. So all of the attention is fixed upon King Jesus. That is the way it should be, isn't it? At a rock concert, the audience doesn't watch the man who controls the lighting or the microphones. At a baseball game, the spectators don't watch the vendor selling hot-dogs. At a wedding, the congregation doesn't watch the photographer. At a crowning, invited guests do not keep their eyes fixed on the honor guard.
John's spotlight is upon Jesus, the royal figure fixed on the tree. Nothing else comes into focus. Nothing. Notice, He is crucified between two others. John does not identify them as thieves; he doesn't call them felons or crooks or criminals. They are simply "two others" (Jn 19:18).
I mentioned already that there is no Simon of Cyrene in John's Gospel. Jesus takes up His own cross. No one else enters the picture.
The center is Jesus. At Gabbatha the center is Jesus (Jn 19:13). At Golgotha the center is Jesus (Jn 19:17). From Gabbatha – the place of judgment – to Golgotha – the place of execution – the center is Jesus. It is His crowning, His coronation.
Jesus was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to death because He claimed "to be a king" (Jn 19:12). "Anyone who claims to be a king," said the Jews, "opposes Caesar" (Jn 19:12).
Was He guilty? Was He guilty of the charges brought against Him? We know that He had not sinned, but was He guilty of the charges that were brought against Him?
Was He guilty? Yes, you bet He was. More than once in the Gospels we hear Jesus claiming all rule, power, and authority for Himself. Jesus did make those claims. There is no doubt about that.
Well, then, was Jesus delusional? Was He saying things about Himself that were not true? Was He claiming for Himself what He had no right to claim?
A number of years ago there was a man pretending to be a fireman. He dressed like a fireman, he showed up at fires, he did fire safety inspections, and so on.Was Jesus like these two men? Was He pretending to be what He was not? No, absolutely not. You see, He was and is and always will be King. Pilate was right on, you see. He was "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Also a number of years ago there was a man who impersonated a police officer. He had a uniform and a squad car with lights and sirens. He would stop speeding motorists.
As for me, I am glad that Jesus was found guilty. And I am sure you are too. I am glad that Jesus is what He was accused of claiming to be.
I am glad that He is King. I am glad that He is the Suffering King. I am glad that He is the Sovereign King Who was crucified, the eternal Word upon the tree, the great I AM upon the cross. I am glad that He is the King Who gave of Himself. I am glad because it means I am saved.
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