Christ’s Death In the City
April 16th, 1989 @ 8:15 AM
CHRIST’S DEATH IN THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-89 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our dear, wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. We are in the very sanctum sanctorum of the life of our Lord, and this is a message on His death. In the nineteenth chapter, verse 20, “For the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city” [John 19:20]: Jesus’ Death in the City.
It was the purpose of God that His Son should be publically exposed. That is an unusual thing when you follow the attack of Satan against our Lord. He tried to kill Him when He was a baby before His life began [Matthew 2:16]. Satan tried to kill Him when He began His ministry in the little town unknown of Nazareth [Luke 4:16, 29]. Satan tried to kill Him in Gethsemane, alone, hidden away [Luke 22:3-4; Mark 14:1, 43-46, 55].
But contrariwise, the purpose of God was that our Lord should be publically exposed. And I mean wholly exposed. The artists are very kind. When you see a picture of the crucifixion of our Lord, He will always have a loin cloth around Him. He was crucified naked [John 19:23-24]. God intended that His Son be openly seen, exhibited. He was crucified on a main highway [John 19:20], and He was crucified just outside the city gate [Hebrews 13:12]. He was crucified at Passover [John 19:14-19], and Josephus, the Jewish historian, is very emphatic that at the Passover season, not only did the throngs gather in Jerusalem from Palestine, but they came from the ends of the civilized world, more than three million of them. Our Lord was publically exhibited. God intended the crucifixion to be something open and seen.
Another thing, the Scriptures are very emphatic that Jesus was not crucified alone. But He was as the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah says, “He was numbered with the transgressors” [Isaiah 53:12]. All four of the Gospels carefully depict the crucifixion of our Lord in the midst of insurrectionists, and murderers, and felons, and criminals. He was the center one; and on either side was a thief [Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 19:18; John 19:18].
That instrument of crucifixion was invented by the Roman Empire. There has never been anything devised in human genius that has the terrible torturous hurt that crucifixion bears with it. Out of a population of one hundred million in the Roman Empire, sixty million of them were slaves, chattel property. And crucifixion was an instrument by which they could control that vast throng of slaves.
It had in it two things that were tragic. Number one: the awful hurt; the wounds that bled, the feverish thirst, the agony. For the most part, one crucified stayed alive on the cross, suffering, for maybe seven, eight, or nine days.
But not only did it carry with it indescribably hurt and suffering, but it was an instrument of disgrace, particularly and especially so to the Jew. In the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy and quoted in the third chapter of the Book of Galatians [Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13], “Cursed is everyone—the law said—cursed is everyone that is hanged on a tree.” And how much more so was that disgrace felt in the innocent, pure life of our Savior? He was in His lifetime, a friend of publicans and sinners [Matthew 11:19], and in His death, He is numbered among them; crucified in their midst [Matthew 27:38].
When we think of the cross, we see there a representation of the entire population of the whole, vast world in its generations. Those present walking up and down in front of the cross, “You”—in sarcasm and in scorn—“You, destroy the temple and build it again in three days? Let’s see You come down from the cross” [Mark 15:29-30]. “You! You say You save others. Why don’t You save Yourself?” [Matthew 27:42]. The contemptuous scorn of those who passed Him by.
And the first saying from the cross, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]. They do not realize the eternal implications and repercussions of their disavowal of any love for and acceptance and belief in God’s propitiation for sin [1 John 2:2]. What a tragedy, and thus to die outside of the grace of God [John 3:36].
Then as He was crucified, on one side of Him, one of the malefactors, one of the felons, hearing that throng in front refer to Him as the Son of God, says to Him in like sarcasm and contempt, “So You say You are the Christ? If You are, save Thyself and us” [Luke 23:39]. And on the other side, the other criminal, in one of those remarkable conversions, said to him, “You do not know where of you speak. This is the Son of God.” And turning to the Lord Jesus said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” [Luke 23:40-42]. What a beautiful and gracious thing to do. “Lord, remember me.” And our Savior is like that always and forever [Luke 23:43]. You call upon His name anywhere; in any sorrow, in any night, in any darkness, and you’ll feel the touch of His precious hand, laid upon you. Try it. Try it. In an hour of hurt and sorrow and disappointment, try it. Call upon the name of the Lord and see if He is not close by and answering according to the hurt of your life.
Our Savior, there nailed to the tree, these who are contemptuously passing up and down in front of Him, and they choose a leaf out of His life, “So You are the friend of sinners?” [Matthew 11:19]. And He cries, saying, “O God, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani [Matthew 27:46]—O God, remember me. Remember me.” And one ran to find a sedative for Him, and the other said, “Let be. Let us see if Jehovah God will come down and remember Him, minister to Him” [Matthew 27:48-49].
Then the Lord on the cross cries, saying, “I thirst. I thirst” [John 19:28]. The little simple word, “I thirst.” How humble and how simple our Lord is in that cry, “I thirst.” He who had the world in His hands and created all of the universe [John 1:3, 10], He who was the Lord of all creation, crying, “I thirst. I thirst.” Lord, how could it be?
And then as though He had not suffered enough, and as though He had not right to condemn those who were taking away His life, He says, “Lord, forgive them: they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]—they don’t realize it. And He bows His head, and gives up the Ghost, crying, “It is finished” [John 19:30]. The great purpose and plan of God in salvation is finished.
And I can see those blood drops from His face, and His hands, and His side, and His feet. I can see them fall down to the ground. And the blood drops on the ground whisper to the dust, “It is finished.”
And the blood drops on the dust
Whisper to the grass,
“It is finished.”
And the blood drops on the grass
Whisper to the herbs,
“It is finished.”
And the blood drops on the herbs
Whisper to the trees,
“It is finished.”
And the blood drops on the trees
Whisper to the birds in the branches,
“It is finished.”
And the birds from the branches
Soar upward to the sky and cry to the clouds,
“It is finished.”
And the clouds cry
To the stars in the sky,
“It is finished.”
And the stars in the sky
Cry to the angels in the New Jerusalem in heaven,
“It is finished.”
And the angels
Go up and down the streets of the New Jerusalem crying,
“It is finished.
It is finished.
God’s great eternal plan of grace and love for us—
It is finished.”
O God! How could the Lord thus die for us? It is beyond man’s thinking—the penalty of our sins received in His own body. And there, expiation, propitiation, payment made for all of our transgressions; all of them [1 John 2:2, 4:10].
So Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea come before Pontius Pilate and ask for His body [John 19:38-39]. And Pontius Pilate—as I said a moment ago, familiar with the length of death and suffering on the cross—Pontius Pilate asked, “Is He dead already?” [Mark 15:44]. He had been on the cross just six hours [Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37]. And they remained there for days and days and days. And He is dead already?
So Pontius Pilate sends for the Roman centurion who supervised the execution [Mark 15:44]. And the Roman centurion said, “Sir, He is dead. And to make sure that the criminals are dead, we broke the bones of the malefactor on either side. But when we came to the center cross, He was so certainly dead that one of our quaternion took his spear and thrust it into His heart [John 19:32-34]. He is dead.”
And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, having permission from the Roman procurator, carefully, tenderly took His body down and wrapped it in linen with spices and laid it in Joseph’s tomb[John 19:38-41]. Can you think such a thing? The death of our precious Lord, that’s what God did that we might find forgiveness in Him [Ephesians 1:7].
The crucifixion of our Savior, the pouring out of the blood of our Lord—who did that? Who encompassed that? Who’s responsible for that? Who arrested and nailed Him to a tree? Who killed our Savior?
Well, Judas did it; he’s the one that betrayed Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. The Jews did it; they were the ones that accused Him. Pontius Pilate did it; he was the one that gave the authority [Matthew 27:24-26]. The Roman soldiers did it; they were the ones that nailed Him to the cross [Mark 15:16-20]. Who did it? It must be that we all had a part. Our sins pressed upon His brow the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29] and our sins nailed Him to the tree [2 Corinthians 5:21]. It was our sins that pierced His side from which flowed out blood and water [John 19:34]. It was our sins that laid Him in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60]; our sins. He was made a propitiation [1 John 2:2], a sacrifice, an atonement [Romans 5:11], a satisfaction for our sins. “He, who knew no sin, God made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And some final judgment day, when we stand in the presence of the great King and our Lord [2 Corinthians 5:10], shall I plead my righteousness? O God, how full of fault I am. And how far short do I come of the perfection of God. All of my hope is in Him, pleading the love [John 13:1], and the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and the mercy of Jesus my Lord. He took my sins and washed me clean and white in His own atoning blood [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. That’s the gospel.
And that’s why we praise His name, bow in His presence, sing songs of His love and worth, offer Him the strength of our lives, and ask His blessings upon the devotion of our souls, and the worship of our lives, and the toil of our hands. “Lord, be dear and near to us.”
That is our appeal to your heart this day. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, this day, God make it a day of salvation for you [Romans 10:9-10]. “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart and called to me, and I’m answering with my life. I’m accepting the Lord Jesus as my own Savior this day.” A family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision now. And in this moment, when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, welcome. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life.” May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
DEATH IN THE CITY
A. The sovereign
purpose of God that the death of His Son be open, public
B. He was numbered with
transgressors (Isaiah 53:12)
C. Crucifixion invented
by the Romans for slaves and felons
Included physical agony and moral disgrace (Deuteronomy
21:23, Galatians 3:13)
II. The whole world represented – the
crowd at the cross
A. The reviling crowd
1. “Father forgive
themâ€¦” (Luke 23:34)
B. The two criminals (Luke 23:39-41)
1. “Today thou
shalt be with Meâ€¦” (Luke 23:42-43)
a. At death, we are
immediately with the Lord
b. We go to an
C. His mother
1. His word to
Mary and to John (John 19:25-27)
III. The darkness
A. “Eli, Eli, lama
sabachthaniâ€¦” (Matthew 27:46)
B. Hellenistic Jews
thought He called for Elijah – “Eloi, Eloiâ€¦” (Mark
IV. In the agony of death
A. “I thirst.” (John 19:28, John 1:1-3)
B. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
C. “Father, into Thy
handsâ€¦” (Luke 23:46)
1. He bowed His
head, gave up the ghost
2. Purpose of
salvation now made plain