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At the Cross

Charlie Boyd - 3/21/2021

SCRIPTURE: John 19:17-30

When you think of the cross, what comes to your mind? If you asked the average person walking down a sidewalk in downtown Greenville, you might hear them say, “Hmmm, the first thing that comes to my mind? Maybe a church or a church steeple or part of a logo for a church—or maybe a gold necklace or earrings—a piece of jewelry. They might even say something very different like, “Blue Cross, Blue Shield” or the Red Cross. 

Today, the cross has become so familiar that for many people it is little more than some kind of personal or organizational decoration. But in the ancient world, the cross struck terror in the heart of anyone who thought about it. They were horrified by crucifixion. It is said that the inventors of ‘death by crucifixion’ designed this method of execution as a way to inflict the maximum amount of pain on a convicted criminal before dying a slow, shameful death. For the first 300 years of Christianity, no one would have ever considered using a cross as a symbol of their faith. It would be ben like wearing an image of a hangman’s noose around your neck or framing an artist’s rendering of an electric chair on your living room wall. But with our Savior’s death on a cross, Jesus transformed that instrument of execution into an instrument of salvation.

Here in John 19, as we stand at the foot of the Cross, the interesting thing is, John does not go into great detail about Jesus' crucifixion. At first reading, it’s all kind of “matter of fact.” There are not many details. As you read through vv17-30, you notice that John gives us a very brief description of the actual crucifixion, just two verses, vv17-18. But strangely, he spends much more time painting a picture of what the overall scene around the cross looks like. 

The question is Why? Why does John tell us these few things? Why these few details? What’s the point he’s trying to make? What does he want us to see in this picture? …I take it that John paints this “Big Picture” scene around the cross so it will forever be anchored in our minds. Then he highlights three statements that Jesus makes from the Cross so they will forever echo in our ears. I believe John wants us to hear three of the seven sayings of Jesus from the Cross because for John, his main point is heard in what Jesus says from the Cross. So, let’s look at each of these statements and unpack them.

(1) “Woman, here is your son. [John] here is your mother.” (19:26-27) — What’s that about? You have to remember that this is back in a time when there were no nursing homes, no Social Security, no pensions, no Medicare or Medicaid. So, when you had a widowed, elderly mother, the only way she could survive was for one of her grown children to take her in. Mary was a widow. Joseph had died sometime earlier. We don’t know when, but since Jesus was the oldest son, she would have been living with Jesus. He’s been taking care of her. But now he’s about to die so he wants to make sure she’s cared for after he’s gone. So, he looks down from the cross and asks John to take care of her. But wait a minute. Culturally, who should be taking her? Well, his brothers should care for her. John 7 says he has a bunch of brothers, but we’re also told that his brothers didn’t believe in him. So, what Jesus is really saying is this: “Mother, John, at the foot of the cross, all your relationships change.” Let me put it this way. If you are a Christian, all the people sitting in the auditorium with you (and if you are watching on line, still, all the people here on campus today) are your mothers, your fathers, your sons, your daughters, your sisters, your brothers. In other words, Jesus says, the Cross so completely changes you that the relationships you have with other believers, are now the most important relationships you have. The cross brings you into the family of God, into a whole new community. From God’s perspective, you are actually closer to your brothers and sisters in Christ than to unbelieving family members. The point is, the Cross re-orders all your relationships. The Cross—not culture, not race, not socio-economic class, not politics, not even family—defines who I am to you and who you are to me.

(2) “I thirst.” (19:28) — John tells us that when Jesus said “I thirst” it fulfilled Scripture. Specifically, the Scripture is Ps 22, which he’s already quoted in v24, referring to how the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing. For sure, Jesus was physically thirsty. The meaning extends beyond physical thirst. More than any other Gospel writer, John loves symbolism. He quotes Jesus saying things like, “I am the light of the Word.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the true vine.” I can give you living water so you never thirst again.” So, we know that when Jesus says “I thirst,” yes, there’s a literal, physical meaning, but there’s also a symbolic, spiritual meaning as well. John wants us to see Jesus’ humanity. He wants us to see that Jesus is experiencing every excruciating pain that we would feel if we were hanging on that cross, but also John is giving us a picture of what Jesus is really going through. He wants us to see that Jesus is experiencing the ultimate thirst—Jesus is experiencing separation from God. The other Gospel writers tell us that just before this, Jesus has cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Also, from Ps22, see v1). Jesus is bearing the weight of our sin and he feels separated from his Father for the first time in his life. On the cross, Jesus was getting what the whole human race deserved for all of its evil. He was getting what everybody deserved for all of their sins. And, it was like a million suns beating down on him because he was experiencing the everlasting burnings of divine justice. Do you know what he’s doing? He is thirsting so we could have the living water. He’s thirsty so we will never thirst again. It’s the fulfillment of what Jesus promised the Samaritan woman at the well back in John 4. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I give them will never be thirsty again.” He’s dying of spiritual thirst. In one moment, he’s experiencing the agony of an eternity without God. He’s being separated from God, the fountain of living waters so we could have the fountain of living waters. It’s symbolic language. Jesus is paying for our sins. He’s taking God’s wrath into himself so that it would not fall on us. He’s thirsting for a restored relationship with God so that we who believe in him will never be thirsty for God ever again.

(3) “It is finished.” (19:30) — The last thing John wants us to hear from Jesus is this one word, “It is finished”—one word, the Greek word, tetelestai, and it’s a word that means paid in full. It’s a word you would write across a bill that has been paid. Like a mortgage. With a mortgage, you are expected to make monthly payments for the life of the loan. But, if you manage to pay off that mortgage, the loan officer writes across the bill, tetelestai—paid in full, you owe nothing more. If I could summarize Christianity in one word it would be this word—tetelestai—it is finished. You see, religion is you striving to be good and do good “in order to” get God’s blessing. The Gospel is “because of” what Jesus has done for you on the Cross, God blesses you with the salvation that comes by faith, and then out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for you, you devote your life to passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus. Religion is, you “do” in order to “get” God’s blessing—you finish the work. The Gospel is, because of what Jesus has done for you, you get God’s blessing by faith—it is finished. How foolish would it be if you paid off your mortgage, but just to make doubly sure that the creditors won’t come after you, you continued making payments? That would be ridiculous, right? Jesus triumphantly says, “It is finished. I’ve done it all for you.” Do you believe that? If you are beating yourself up, if you can’t forgive yourself, you’re not taking seriously what Jesus has done for you. You believe, but you don’t believe. And the opposite is true as well. If you can’t forgive others, you don’t know it’s finished either. If you can’t forgive others, you’re saying, “Look how good I am. Look at what I’m doing. I’m living right. I’m believing right. I’m doing all of these things.” If that’s you, you don’t know it’s finished. If your only hope was the finished work of Christ, you would never allow once ounce of that kind of self-righteous, self-perceived moral superiority to stick in your heart. Rigid, proud Christians—condemning, judgmental Christians—don’t know it’s finished. Until you see “It-is-finished” and you stop acting as if Jesus’ death was something that kinda made a contribution to your salvation but you have to finish it, you will never be able to forgive yourself and you’ll never be able to forgive others. You’ll never be at peace. You’ll believe in forgiveness, but you won’t believe it enough for it to really make a difference in your life.

John wants these three statements of Jesus to echo in our ears every single day. You can tie them all together like this—going from last to first—Because “it is finished,” my relationship with God has changed—because Jesus was made thirsty for me, I have the water of new life bubbling in me. And because “it I finished,” my relationships with other people has changed. Now my most important relationships are with those who know Jesus as their Savior. What difference will these great truths make in your life this week?

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.