John takes us on a “quick march” through the crucifixion account. We move from Pilate’s judgement hall, touch on Jesus’ progression down the Via Dolorosa, and end up on Golgotha at the foot of the cross. Maybe the Holy Spirit felt enough of the specific details of the events had been shared through the other gospel writers. It takes reading all four accounts to get the complete picture. The Holy Spirit, through John, does mention several details along this quick march. He places a LOT for us to discover beneath the surface of John’s pen.
The first detail John shares was that Jesus was carrying His own cross. Even after being beaten by the vicious Roman soldiers and suffering their mocking and ridicule. He still lifted up that heavy crossbeam and brought it to Calvary. We know from the other gospel writers that He received help from Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.
A good leader is one who already has, or is willing to, walk the roads they are asking their followers to walk. Jesus fulfills that in this event. He literally took up His cross. He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him. Fortunately ours in not as deadly as His was but, we will have pain in doing so too. His cross was composed of wood and the Father’s will. Ours are composed of whatever sin we need to “die” to in order to truly follow Him. In following Him we have to be willing to leave ANYTHING behind that would separate us from Him. This will bring pain. This may even bring humiliation, ridicule, and loss. But on the other side of the cross is life with Jesus. THAT makes it worth the pain. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
The second detail mentioned is that Jesus was crucified between two others. John doesn’t tell us of the others’ crimes but it is shared with us in all the other gospels. These two were thieves. Mark calls them rebels. Luke is the only one to share the second thief’s repentant heart.
Here hangs Jesus between two choices. Both men have certainly sinned. Both are guilty of their crimes and receiving their just reward. But one receives something undeserved. He receives mercy and grace. He CHOSE to recognize Jesus for who He was. He chose to seek Jesus’ help, even when it looked like He had nothing to offer. In the natural world, one dying man crying out to another is an exercise in futility. But in the spiritual one, that cry made all the difference. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Jesus hangs between the choice of life and death. Which will you choose?
The third thing John shares is the inscription of “charges” that were hung above Jesus. Each prisoner had to have his charges displayed for those passing by to see. This ensured a little extra humiliation and public scorn. Who wouldn’t be pleased to see a murderer receiving justice for his crimes? But Jesus had committed no crime. Pilate declared Him innocent. So for His “charges” Pilate wrote the truth. Jesus was condemned to die because He was King of the Jews.
Jesus was not the kind of King they were expecting but He WAS the one they received AND rejected. By rejecting “their” King they freed Him to be King to ALL. He fulfilled all the requirements of the Messiah that was to redeem Israel back to God. But Israel chose to reject that redemption. Rather than Jesus’ work going to waste, God opened the invitation of redemption to all. ANY who would receive Jesus as their King were welcomed into His Kingdom. From that moment on His Kingdom was not exclusive but inclusive. Pilate wrote the charges in three languages. This proclaimed Jesus as King to ALL who viewed the inscription. Jew AND Gentile could read of His royalty. That inscription was an invitation to ALL!
The fourth event John, through the Holy Spirit’s urging, mentions is the parting of Jesus’ garments by the Roman soldiers. I believe this event is mentioned to show how Jesus continued to meet prophecy right up to the point of His final moments. This isn’t the last prophecy he fulfills before death but it is such a specific one that it cannot be denied.
Psalm 22 is rife with images of this day and verse 18 prophetically and explicitly states what the soldiers were engaged in at the foot of Jesus’ cross. “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garments” (Psalm 22:18). Unlike David in the Psalm, Jesus would not be rescued from His physical plight. His “rescue” would be His reward for enduring to the end; completion of God’s plan of redemption.
The last detail John shares, in our reading today, is about those whom Jesus loved who were gathered at the foot of His cross. Most of Jesus’ disciples are in hiding. Peter is certainly in mourning over his behavior. We are not told where they are exactly but we are told about those few who wouldn’t be separated from Him.
There were three Mary’s and John looking on. There was Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary, her sister and wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Who would be surprised to see the condemned’s mother nearby? She came to lend whatever support she could to her Son. There was nothing she could do but bear witness to His pain. Her sister was probably there to lend support to her as well as to the One she followed. Mary Magdalene was there to render support but for a different reason. She was there out of gratitude. Her life had been forever altered by Jesus’ love. She HAD to return that love in any way she could.
I believe John was the caretaker of the group among Jesus’ disciples. Peter seemed to be the spokesman but John felt for the others. John loved wholly. Jesus entrusted His mother’s care to John’s heart.
This was the last gift Jesus gave before His death. In His most agonizing moments He took time to ensure His mother was cared for. He also made sure one of His dearest friends felt His abundant trust. Jesus trusted John with His mother’s life. There was no hesitation in accepting this charge from Jesus on John’s part. “And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (verse 27). I’d say he took her to his own heart too. What a way to honor Jesus!
Holy Spirit, thank You for bringing these details to John’s memory. I doubt he would ever forget the last one, but the others mean so much too. Thank You for allowing me some insight into their meanings too. I pray I have not missed Your leading in any of the details You placed in this story. I know there is also still so much more that I have yet to uncover, but for today, I am amazed by Your generosity!
Father God, thank You for taking the time to plan each detail of Jesus’ final hours. Each moment meant so much more than just ticks on the clock. Each one held special meaning and promises. Thank You for each of those promises.
Lord Jesus, thank You for willingly submitting to the Father’s will. Thank You for loving me enough to go through this devastating experience. Thank You for taking MY place. I deserved this shame and punishment, not You. But You took it for me. Help me willingly take up MY cross and follow You. Please show me daily what I need to “die to” to be closer to You. Let nothing separate us! I have decided to follow Jesus!