“He was despised and rejected by mankind” (53:3), so said Isaiah the prophet. Jesus said, he would be handed “over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” (Mt 20:19) St. John summarized it this way: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him” (Jn 1:10). Tonight, the crowds three words say it too: “Take him away!”
John 19:14–18 (NIV84) 14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. 16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Our midweek Lenten services have been focusing on events of Jesus’ passion leading up to his crucifixion. Here is the final farewell the city gave him—shouts of anger and hatred, shouts calling for his death. Satan was mightily at work, pouring out his hatred of God through the voices and hands of the people. But God was also at work that day, accomplishing what he had long-planned.
We might stop and ask, “How can we even begin to account for the utter hatred of Jesus of Nazareth?” What had he done – even Pilate asked it last week? Besides heal the sick, cure the blind, make the lame walk, drive out demons, feed thousands, and raise a couple of dead people. And, of course, teach the Word of God so that many, many came to have a clear understanding of what the prophets were saying and what God’s will for their lives truly was? What evil is in any of that? There is none. In the final analysis, what Jesus told his disciples the night before was right and true: “They hated me without reason” (Jn 15:25).
There is reason, of course. There’s a basic one. This world thinks we’re peace and pleasantry at our core, but God says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” The sinful nature is capable of great wickedness. And there was never a day more filled with hostility than when sinful people, both Jews and Gentiles, shouted, “Take him away!” and crucified the innocent Son of God.
So Jesus picked up his own cross and left the people in the crowd to their cravings. What were they craving? His blood? Sure. But for reasons… Jesus of Nazareth was disrupting their political relationship with Rome and endangering their peace, security, and prosperity. Earlier, the Jewish ruling council had said, “If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation” (Jn 11:48,49). Their thoughts were all about this world, this life. Malachi the prophet had said that “the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, . . . and people seek instruction from his mouth” (Mal 2:7). Their concern ought to have been focusing the people on their eternal relationship with God, but (as our text says) the chief priests were the ones who led the chant, “We have no king but Caesar.” Caesar—who within 40 years would attack Jerusalem, kill thousands, and destroy the temple. Caesar—who in one hundred years would level the city of Jerusalem, rebuild it as an entirely Roman city, and banish Jews from setting foot in it! No king but Caesar? How ironic! At Passover time they were supposed to be celebrating their liberation and freedom under God. But here, in their craving for earthly security, they pledged themselves to servitude instead.
How powerful sin is like this in our hearts too! How much we need to repent and live in repentance so that our focus is not on this world—its wealth, its apparent security. We have such a natural craving to try to make this earth our heaven and to never want to leave. To rely on these kings and rest in their rule; and to be blinded to the slavery we commit ourselves to. All because when Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23), Satan is so quick to say, “What kind of life is that? Did Jesus say that? You don’t need that. Take him away!” But what a price to pay for buying into that lie!
Thank God, though, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that our salvation depends on this Jesus—his devotion, his zeal, his commitment to fulfill his Father’s plans for our eternity!
John records it almost without emotion: Jesus picked up his own cross, went out to Golgotha, and there they crucified him. But Jesus had a quiet dignity in all this loud ugliness and an iron-like resolve to see the task done. While he left behind the clamoring crowds to their cravings, he moved forward his Father’s gracious plan.
That plan was so beautifully foreshadowed in Israel’s Passover festival. You recall it? God commanded the people through Moses to take an innocent, spotless lamb and slaughter it. That lamb’s blood was brushed onto the doorframes of their homes, and when the angel of death did his horrific work that night in Egypt, the blood delivered the Israelites from death; death passed them over. This was pure grace. The Israelites weren’t any less sinful than the Egyptians. But God had claimed them and changed their hearts. God had made them his people, and God provided his people with deliverance.
The greatest deliverance was happening at the place of the skull. Here was blood again; better blood, holy blood. Here was the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; blood painted on the beams of the cross to cover your sins, your guilt. Here was Jesus’ blood that is our righteousness. Through this blood, God has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, and he remembers them no more.
Trusting in this blood, shed on the cross, a glorious future awaits you. St. John saw us in a vision he recorded in Revelation, as people who one day will have escaped this great tribulation of life in a sin-cursed world. “These in white robes—who are they?” the elder asked. John answered, “You know.” Yes—“these are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple’ ” (Rev 7:13-15).
This blood, this forgiveness, this future—this is what Jesus was carrying up Golgotha’s hill with his cross, to fulfill his Father’s gracious plan. St. Paul would later talk about it on his first missionary journey (perhaps 15 years after Jesus’ suffering and death), at a synagogue in present-day Turkey. It was his custom to go to his fellow Jews first and to try to share with them the good news about the Messiah. In that sermon, he explained what really happened on Good Friday: “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath” (Ac 13:27). Jesus’ rejection at the hands of his own people brought reconciliation to the world (Ro 11:15). That is, peace between God and man. God’s gracious plan for us all along. Here we see it done.
“Take him away!” “Take him away!” We shudder to hear the words and thank God that we weren’t alive and part of the crowd that day. The crowd got its wish; after that day they would never see Jesus again. Following his resurrection, Jesus only showed himself to those who believed in him. He hid himself from the rest—a horrible judgment for those people in and of itself!
But on that day of his trial—as he always does—God also showed his grace and his power. He gave his only Son into death for our sins. And he used his almighty power to do what he does best, to turn evil into good—eternal good for you who put your faith in him. Amen.