Flogged, crucified, died, and buried. That was the sequence of events for the Hero of so-called ‘Good Friday’! Pilate, in his attempt to avoid this unjust execution, had one more throw of the dice: have the prisoner scourged, dress him up and humiliate him, and the crowd might just have their sympathies aroused and their thirst for more pain quenched. A scourging was no token gesture either: many men never made it to the cross after the soldiers had ‘softened them up’ with a whip of leather strips into which were tied pieces of bone and lead.
But Pilate’s strategy to sway the crowd’s choice by just half-killing their Messiah failed. “Crucify! Crucify!” their leaders yelled, followed by everyone else repeatedly, drowning out Pilate’s reasoned judicial findings. Pilate had no options left if he were to placate the crowd and avoid a damning report finding its way back to Rome. The prisoner was no help to him, since Jesus refused even to help himself: “Don’t you realise that I have the power to free you or crucify you?” was Pilate’s desperate entreaty (i.e., “Give me something”!). But no. “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” – said Jesus in response.
It is interesting to note, in passing, that there are degrees of sin, in God’s view. He is a fair judge and would not consider that the theft of a loaf of bread is in the same league as the rape of a child. Some Christians mistakenly think that God views all sins as equally bad; not so! This heresy may have originated by extension from the valid doctrine that even one small sin is sufficient to condemn the sinner to judgment and to Hell. If we want to ‘pay the price’ ourselves, then the ‘pass mark’ is one hundred percent! Better to have outside help!
Matter-of-factly, John describes the logistics and the setting for the crucifixion. Of all the Twelve disciples, only he was an eyewitness now. A reluctant Pilate signs the execution deed and hands Jesus over to the detachment of soldiers. He makes one final pointed comment on the entire sordid process by insisting that the written charge, displayed for all the world to see above the cross, says: “The King of the Jews” – which duly offended the chief priests in a very pleasing way!
John noted that the soldiers – as was their entitlement – divided up Jesus’ limited set of clothes amongst them but drew lots for his valuable full-length undergarment. Unknowingly, they fulfilled Psalm 22:18, which is the same psalm that Jesus quoted in saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, later in the proceedings. Jesus, meanwhile, divided up his remaining family: giving his mother into John’s care. (Jesus’ biological brothers, who would have been the obvious first choice, were at that point nowhere, in every sense.)
John’s account of Jesus’ last words ends with the stirring “It is finished” – the same statement applied to a bill that has been “paid in full”. We now know that this was a very apt analogy indeed! It represented the full and complete satisfaction required by a God of Justice for our sins. Jesus had paid the price for your sins and mine, so that we have a clean spiritual bill of health.
Evidence for a future resurrection requires proof of a prior death. John spends time detailing the medical evidence – separated blood cells and serum – that indicated that the heart had stopped.
John 19:31 mentions that crucifixion day was not the special Passover Sabbath itself, but the day before, and therefore the crucified, dead victims had to be removed and buried. It is not often realized that there were possibly two Sabbaths in between the crucifixion and the resurrection – one the special Passover one, and the other being the regular ‘Saturday’ as we know it. Also, a Jewish day began with the night at 6pm, turned into day at 6am, and ended at 6pm. For this reason, and for a more literal explanation of Matthew 12:40, some scholars propose that the actual day of the crucifixion was not a ‘Friday’ (as we would call it), but a day or so earlier.
Finally, and urgently, the body had to be buried before sundown. Two secret wealthy disciples at last served their master well by providing a prominent tomb and preparing the body for burial. A large amount of embalming mixture was used – such as royalty would be entitled to – and these fluids were interleaved with strips of linen and the whole body covered with a shroud. (No-one was going to just resuscitate from that!) John is setting the scene for the miracle of the next chapter – having proved that Jesus did die and was buried and couldn’t just revive.
And so, we wait for a Sabbath… or two…
1 SAMUEL 25, 26 and 27
Samuel died and, with that, David lost a great friend and ally. As a result, he moved into the desert regions and therefore food was scarce. Hospitality is seen as an absolute responsibility of every household in Middle Eastern societies; to withhold it is the ultimate insult. So Nabal, whose name means ‘Fool’ acted in character and denied David and his men the basic courtesies that a host would normally extend without thinking. The knowledge that David had guarded Nabal’s shepherds and his sheep as an act of kindness, did nothing to change the fool’s mind and he sent David’s messengers packing! David seemed to be naturally quick-tempered and only became gentler in spirit as God had influence in his life; on this occasion, he tooled up his warriors and they thundered down to Nabal’s territory.
The one thing that Nabal had in his favour was a beautiful, intelligent, and wise wife (don’t we all, guys!) who acted quickly on this occasion to spare her husband’s life and the household complete shame. Greeting David and his men properly – at last! – she placated them with a wonderful spread of food and asked for forgiveness on behalf of her family. Prophetically (or even just flatteringly) she foretold that David would triumph over all his enemies; and she praised God that he had kept David from bloodlust and vengeance, which would have tainted his conscience forever. The key verse that probably struck home to David was (25:28): “The Lord you God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the LORD’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live”. As long as we live for the sake of his Kingdom, he will meet our needs and preserve our inheritance. (See also Matthew 6:33.)
Vengeance is the Lord’s not ours; and as we wait for his justice to descend to Earth, he will count us as faithful servants (Romans 12:17-21). We see in David’s case that very quickly, Nabal was dealt with by the Lord himself – and that David gained a wonderful wife in the process. God always gives us more than we expect or deserve.
For the second time in quick succession, David also refused to exact vengeance upon Saul, despite the king falling into his hands again. Saul and his bodyguard were sleeping, and God put them into a still-deeper sleep. David again denied himself the opportunity to kill his master, and as a result demonstrated again that he was a man after God’s heart – exercising faith in the capability of the Lord rather than in human agency. Faith always takes the long-term course of action, whereas ‘sight’ takes what is expedient in the short term. We need to act as people who will live forever – which we will – and adjust our decision-making to be consistent with and eternal perspective. In the Kingdom of God, the horizon is the least distance you should be viewing, and faith takes you beyond human vision altogether.
So David spared Saul and made fun of his bodyguard, Abner, who was in reality a good and loyal servant. Saul was, as usual, penitent for a short while. Nevertheless, David was wiser than to return home, and he actively sought shelter outside Israel in the company of the Philistines. Every day he raided peoples and territories beyond Israel, whilst pretending to be attacking Israelite towns instead. Of course, to keep his secret, he needed to completely destroy all the people in his path. Furthermore, this fulfilled the command of God to Joshua so many years previously – another way in which David was a man after God’s heart! As a result of David’s activities, the Philistine kings trusted David to stay on their side against the Israelites in the future.