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God’s Word for You

John 19:16b-22 Good Friday

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 30, 2018

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).

Lutheran commentator R.H. Lenski argues that the evidence points to Jesus having to carry the entire cross and not just the patibulum or upper cross bar. The cross would have been hewn roughly without any finishing touches from thick boards bigger than the 4x4’s most of us have in the framework of our homes. It was the sort of heavy lumber Jesus and Joseph would have worked with when the Lord was a child (Mark 6:3). Earlier Jesus had spoken to his disciples about carrying their crosses (Matthew 10:38), because those being crucified had to carry them to the place of execution. Now we see that they made him carry this thing through the streets of the city from where they were near the temple out (probably either north or west, where the traffic would be heaviest) to a place outside the city where many people would be passing on their way in or out. Since the Passover was about to begin, the passing crowds might have numbered many thousands during the six hours Jesus suffered.

Golgotha is Aramaic for “skull.” It was named this either because it was a hill that resembled a skull or else it was a nickname given because the Romans used it for this purpose. In Greek, it was called Kraniou Topon, “Place of the Cranium” (Calvariae, “Calvary” is Latin for the Greek word cranium, “skull”).

18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Crucifixions were a simple and terrifying way to kill a man slowly. Simply attach him with ropes, nails, or both to an upright wooden structure, and wait. People experimented with many designs of crosses: I-shaped, X-shaped, impaling on a stake, upside down, sideways, head down, but upright on a T or † was most effective. Since Pilate also put a sign above Jesus’ head, we understand that in Jesus’ case, the “traditional” or “Latin” †-shaped cross was employed. Jesus’ feet would only have been a few inches off the ground. The cause of death in a crucifixion is a kind of drowning.

In a car, one of the first things to rust is often the exhaust pipe or the muffler. That’s because water is a by-product of the internal combustion engine, just as it is with your breathing (you see a little mist when you breathe onto glass—that’s water from your lungs). In a crucifixion, the victim can’t properly exhale because of the position of his body. He inhales, but he can’t exhale very well, and his lungs fill up with water. In a matter of hours or at most a day or so, he will drown, or his waterlogged lungs will burst his heart.

Wasn’t it remarkable that when we read about Jesus being scourged (whipped), there was only one little phrase about it with no other description? In fact, in Greek, it was only one word. Here, the same thing happens, and again in Greek, it’s only a single word: they crucified him. We only learn about the nails later when Jesus shows the marks to his disciples. Another amazing event will also be presented with a single word, and like these others, it will amaze us that this took place: he rose.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.  21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”  22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (NIV)

Our common abbreviation for the inscription above the cross is INRI. These letters stand for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

This is the only time in the entire Bible that the long and cumbersome phrase “the chief priests of the Jews” occurs. I wonder whether John wanted us to read it and understand: the chief priests of the Jews were rejecting the King of the Jews. Pilate’s sign was perhaps one last attempt to assert the governor’s authority, so that people would know that it wasn’t his idea to crucify Jesus. But what he wrote was also the truth,, whether it was written for the right reason or not.

It was the truth. The man who stopped Jesus from preaching the gospel with the question “What is truth?” had written and published the most important truth of all time.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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