Fifth sermon for Holy Week 2011

Apr 13th, 2011 | By | Category: Sermons

The Evidence of Jesus: John 19:17-42

Tonight we come to the end of our look at the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  Tonight we come to the single event which changes our lives for evermore; the final battle which will defeat death forever.  Tonight we come to the crucifixion.

Carrying the cross Jesus comes to the place of ‘The Skull’.  We have seen before why it was named ‘the Skull’.  Jewish legend saw it as the burial place of the skull of Adam.  Naming the place, John is trying to make a symbolic point. Adam stands for the old creation which has fallen into sin; Jesus stands for the new creation which is freed from sin by his death.  Adam represents the beginning of humanity; Jesus represents humanity at the end of time.

Because we don’t share the Jewish background of John and the readers of the Gospel, we miss out on a lot of these details.  Jesus goes to the place of the Skull and here is God saying to us, this is the new Adam who will succeed where the old Adam failed.  The old Adam lies dead and buried; the new Adam will rise to eternal life. 

Jesus is crucified and Pilate has a notice attached to the cross.  The Jewish leaders are not at all happy at what it says, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’.  It’s as though Pilate is shifting responsibility away from himself; this is a Jewish matter.

There is great symbolism in where the crucifixion took place; there is also great symbolism in the languages used by Pilate: Aramaic, Latin and Greek.  Aramiac was a form of Hebrew; it was the language of God’s own people. Latin was the language of the empire; the language of the rulers and those who bore high office.  Greek was the language of everyday life and commerce around the Mediterranean.  Pilate’s notice is saying that here is a man for all the people; the Jews and the Gentiles; the great and the good; the common and the ordinary.  The first Adam was a man for himself; this last Adam is a man for all people, everywhere.

The life of Jesus is human in every way; God takes on every aspect of our lives.  We have the sordid business of the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothes between themselves, until they come to the seamless robe which Jesus wore underneath the dusty outer robes.

The soldiers decide to draw lots to decide who will get this robe, and John is anxious to make the point that even the ghastly matter of gambling over a dying man’s clothes is within God’s plan—it is the fulfilment of Psalm 22:18.

The seamless garment is another point we usually miss because we have not grown up in a Jewish background.  The seamless linen garment was like was like that worn by Aaron, the high priest in ancient times, and the Jewish high priests had continued the tradition of wearing the fine linen outer garment mentioned in Leviticus 16:4.  The mention of this garment worn by Jesus would have made a clear point to John and his readers—Jesus is the high priest.  The Jewish high priest went into the Temple each year to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people; Jesus offers himself on the Cross as an offering for the sins of all people, one and for all.

Standing near the Cross are Jesus’ mother and three other women, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  There are four women and one man, the man we believe to be John who wrote this Gospel account.  Churches which have rejected the ordination of women seem to overlook this one point in the history of the universe, this turning point in the history of humanity. When the men have nearly all disappeared, there remained near the Cross four women and one man.

In his dying agony, Jesus’ thoughts are still for others.  He arranges for John to care for his mother.

Later, and John again makes the point that all this is in fulfilment of the Scriptures, that God is in charge, Jesus says he is thirsty and when he has received the drink he says “It is finished” and he gives up his spirit.  This is not the death of a wandering preacher who comes to a tragic end; this is the Son of God deliberately taking on our human life and dying for us.

Until the last the religious leaders are still concerned with their rules.  They wanted to make sure all three men were dead so their bodies could be taken down because the next day was the Sabbath.

This is religion at its deadest; a matter of rules and regulations and tradition.  Never mind the big questions of life, as long as all the small details receive attention.  Somehow the Jews have completely lost sight of the truth; they have no regard for justice; they have put this man to death and they are still concerned with the small print of their religion.

I knew a man in the North who dedicated his life to telling people about Jesus and trying to have attractive worship in his church.  I would regularly read letters in the Church of Ireland Gazette from a woman in his parish who complained repeatedly that things weren’t being done as they had always been done.  It is very easy to slip into the attitude of being religious and forget we are here to tell people about Jesus.

The religious leaders and the soldiers of the empire believe they have killed Jesus; they have at last got rid of him.  They have completely misunderstood the point that this is God with whom they are dealing; God’s power is far beyond their imagination.

Sometimes we can be like them.  Sometimes we think that we can read the Gospel story and leave it behind us; as though it was an event in history and that God’s power did not exist.  Sometimes we can think that God depends on the Church, not realising that it is the Church that depends on God.

Those men in Jerusalem believed they could bury Jesus and leave him behind.  We make the same mistake so often.  We can come to church and go away thinking that we can push Jesus out of the way for the rest of the time.  Jesus is far beyond our imagination.

At the end of this dreadful day in Jerusalem, two men come forward, hesitantly and cautiously: Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple, and Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus previously under the cover of darkness.  These two men at last stand up to be counted.  They declare themselves to be followers of Jesus.  It meant a great sacrifice, they had a lot to lose, but at last they come forward.

Standing at the Cross of Calvary, faced with the same evidence of Jesus, how do we respond?  Are se so convinced by the evidence that we are prepared to make sacrifices?  Is the case beyond all reasonable doubt?  Does it fill us with courage to be like Joseph and Nicodemus?

The evidence presented to us in the arrest, trial and persecution of Jesus demands a verdict from us.  Do we decide to be disciples of Jesus, or do we walk away?

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  1. Woah, five sermons, written before Holy Week has even started, I don’t know how you do it. It’s tempting just to print them off and use them 😉

  2. Being so long ordained, I think I probably have at least a dozen Holy Week series – the series posted was recycled from 2005!

  3. Rev. Poulton,

    I’m curious where you found your facts for this sermon. There were two points in your message that shocked me.

    First, I understand that Gol’gotha or “place of the skull” was the location where Goliath’s skull was buried, not Adam’s. Where did you find the folklore about it being the burial place of Adam’s skull? Did you place the”folklore” in your sermon simply because it fit your point?

    Secondly, Pilate nailed that sign above the head of Jesus on the cross to mock him, not to proclaim that he was “a man for all people, everywhere.” Did I miss understand you? The claim that Pilate sought to proclaim Jesus as a man of all people is preposterous.

    Please forgive my message if it seams a bit terse.

    Rev. Sean David Boyd
    Alexandria, VA

  4. The Adam legend is cited by the Scottish Presbyterian Bible commentator William Barclay, whose devotional works I have enjoyed over the years.

    There is no intention to suggest that Pilate regarded Jesus as anything more than a nuisance; it is the words of the notice that unwittingly proclaim Jesus as a man for all the people.

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