The Explore the Bible lesson for Feb. 9 focuses on John 19:23-30, 38-42.
Do you remember when Jesus had his unconventional conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, recounted in John 4? When his disciples returned to the scene, they tried to get Jesus to eat something. In verse 34, Jesus told them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
In John 19, we see the fulfillment of all Jesus meant when he said those words. As he was dying on the cross, one of his final statements—“It is finished”—showed how important it was for him to complete the work the Father had given him. We know what Jesus did, and we even know why he carried out this difficult work. So for just a few moments, let’s focus our attention on the reaction of the people who were there that day.
Some observers were close friends or family of Jesus. It is clear the disciple John was somewhere near the cross as Jesus was tortured. In addition, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and other women were standing nearby. It is hard to imagine the pain these people most have experienced. To them, it was not their Savior or Messiah who was being put to death, but their friend or son.
You cannot help but think back to Simeon’s words to Mary when Jesus was just a baby and was being dedicated in the temple: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).
With all the time Mary and the disciples spent with Jesus, there must have been so many thoughts going through their minds. The angel had promised Mary the Father was going to give him “the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). How could it all end this way? There had to be something more, right? Was this really God’s plan?
Another group gathered around the cross were those who hated Jesus. As we already have discussed over the last couple of weeks, Jesus willingly went to the cross to die for our sins. Even though Jesus went voluntarily, it still is meaningful to see those who administered his afflictions. Some who continually yelled insults at Jesus. In addition, the guards were responsible to nail Jesus to that instrument of execution. Even in the midst of their shame, John still showed how all of this happened exactly as God had said it would. Precisely as the prophecy had said, these men divided up Jesus’ garments and cast lots for his clothes.
Interestingly, though, it was the powerful who carried out the crucifixion of Christ. Roman soldiers carried out this type of execution. In addition, it was the Jewish religious leaders who stirred up the mob to overwhelm Pilate into submitting to this sentence for Jesus. Jesus made it clear he did not come for the powerful and self-righteous. He came for those willing to admit their sickness, their weakness and their sin. You can see the contrast between these two types of people demonstrated in the story of Christ’s death.
The final group was those moved by their encounter with Jesus. Even on the cross, Jesus continued to contact those around him. We know from other versions of this story a thief crucified alongside Christ—as well as one of the soldiers—was touched by what he saw in Jesus that day.
In John’s version of the events, we can see two men who came to take the body of the crucified Christ to a proper burial. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who had come at night to talk to Jesus a long time before these events (John 3), were the two men who brought Jesus’ body to the tomb. Both these men secretly had become followers of Christ. They made a significant sacrifice and took great risk in taking care of Jesus’ burial arrangements.
Jesus also seemed to have made an impact on the life of Pontius Pilate. For a man who refused to listen to truth, he was willing to display some dramatic “truth claims” about Christ. His three-fold placard that proclaimed Christ “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (v. 19) made the Jewish leadership very upset. It also shows the impact his time with Christ had made on Pilate’s heart.
Not much has changed
The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” certainly applies as we compare the reaction of the people surrounding the cross that day with those we come in contact with in our culture. As his disciples, Jesus gave us the task of being his witnesses in this world (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20). He also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
As we point people to the cross, there will be all kinds of reactions. Some people will put off making a decision. Others will be angry and even hate us because in order to need a Savior, they will have to admit to being a sinner. However, some will be touched. They will feel Christ drawing them to himself, and they too will become followers of Jesus.
Just as Jesus finished the work the Father gave him regardless of the different reactions of the people, we must continue to point to the cross as God’s standard of love and forgiveness, regardless of whatever personal persecution we might face.