Christ’s Death in the City
April 16th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
CHRIST’S DEATH IN THE CITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-89 10:50 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Christ’s Death in the City. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in the very Holy of Holies, the sanctum sanctorum. And in the nineteenth chapter of this Fourth Gospel, in the twentieth verse, the apostle John writes, "For the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city" [John 19:20]. It was God’s eternal purpose that His Son would be openly exposed and publicly looked upon; every part of His life, nothing hidden away. He was exhibited before the whole world.
Satan sought to interdict that purpose of God. He sought to kill Him when He was a baby [Matthew 2:13-16], and the world would never know Him. Satan sought to destroy Him in Nazareth, at the beginning of His ministry [Luke 4:16, 28-29], and you’d never heard of Him. Then Satan sought to slay Him in Gethsemane when, in the darkness of the night, He prayed alone [Matthew 26:36]. But contrariwise to the purpose of evil, it was the purpose of God that Jesus be publicly exposed [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12].
These artists are very kind. They are very gracious when they paint a picture of our Lord on the cross. They always place around Him a loincloth, but not so. When Jesus was crucified, He was naked; openly exposed; every part of His anatomy; every part of His life; every part of His way and walk and day. And the cross was raised on a public highway just beyond the city gate [Hebrews 13:12]. And not only that but Josephus says – the historian of the Jewish nation – Josephus says that at Passover time there were more than three million pilgrims who gathered in Jerusalem, not only from Palestine but from the ends of the civilized world. Our Lord was publicly displayed. He was publicly crucified.
Not only that, but in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and elsewhere, He is numbered among the transgressors [Isaiah 53:12]. All four Gospels are careful to point out He was not crucified alone. He was crucified with malefactors and seditionists and insurrectionists and murderers and thieves [Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32; John 19:18]. In the days of His ministry, He was the friend of publicans and sinners [Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34]. And when He died, He died in the midst of felons and murderers: sinners [John 19:18; Luke 23:39-41]. He was identified with them.
That’s an amazing thing, that our Lord should be crucified with murderers. And the way He was offered as a sacrifice to God was an invention of the Roman Empire to be sure that no insurrection would arise among the slaves and the criminals and the felons of the world. There were one hundred million people in the Roman Empire and sixty million of them were slaves. And crucifixion was an invention of the leadership of the Roman Empire to see to it that the slaves of the civilized world did not rise against their masters, and was administered in bitterness to the felons and the murderers of the day. That is a device of execution that goes beyond anything mankind has ever dreamed of or thought of, crucifixion, in suffering and in hurt and in agony. It was a terrible torture.
Sometimes that agonizing culprit on the cross would suffer for seven, eight, nine days. And the wounds in hands and feet, and the feverish thirst, and the agony of the hurt, and the gangrene, and all attendant to the way of death, is to us indescribable and unthinkable. But not only was it tragic in its hurt and in its suffering, but to a Jew it was beyond words full of disgrace.
In the twenty-first chapter of the Book Deuteronomy, the law says, "Cursed is everyone that is hanged on a tree" [Deuteronomy 21:23]. And that is quoted by Paul in the Book of Galatians [Galatians 3:9-13]. Cursed! Cursed! As you know, the way of execution on the part of the Jewish nation was by stoning [Numbers 15:35]. And when the Romans came with their crucifixion and their nailing the culprit to a tree, oh, to a Jew it was unthinkable! And how much more so when we review the pure, holy, innocent life of our Lord; that He would endure suffering of the cross is almost beyond what our hearts are able to bear.
When He was raised beneath the earth and the sky, when He was raised on that highway beyond the city [John 19:20], there was gathered before Him representatives of the whole created world; all mankind. There were those there that looked upon Him with contempt, refusing His overtures of grace and compassion and mercy. And they walked up and down before His cross, and in scorn, "Ha! You who say, tear down the temple and in three days You will build it up, You will reconstruct it; let us see You come down from the cross [Mark 15:29-30]. Ha! You who purport to save others, let us see You save Yourself" [Matthew 27:42].
And at the very foot of the cross a quaternion of soldiers, four Roman soldiers, gamble because there were five of His garments, and each one takes one; but they cast lots, they gamble for the fifth one [John 19:23-24]. And it was then that our Lord said the first of His sayings from the cross, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34]. We cannot enter into the ultimate choice that took us away from God: refusing our Savior, and just letting Him die. And we pass Him by.
Then in those two thieves, one of them had a heart likewise of scorn and contempt. "You, You, You who are supposed to be the Son of God, save Thyself and us." And the other rebuked him saying, "How can you condemn Him when we are in a like judgment and a like tragic condition? And we justly, but this Man has done nothing worthy of death" [Luke 23:39-41].
And then turning to the center cross, to the Lord, this repentant thief and murderer and insurrectionist said, "Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me" [Luke 23:42]. What faith, that this dying Man called Christ would have a kingdom! "Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, call my name. Remember me." And our Lord said to him, "Today," semeron, this day; this day, semeron, this day – "Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
I want to point out two things before I leave that. Number one: any number of times, endlessly in the sixty-two years I’ve been a pastor, have I been asked, "Pastor, when we die, where do we go? Where do we go?" So many teach that we sleep in the grave or that we have no existence, no sensitivity. My brother, Jesus said, "Semeron – today – this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." Where do you go when you die? You go to be with the Lord that day, that moment [2 Corinthians 5:6-8]
Now, a second observation about it. We go to an intermediate place called Paradise or Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22-23]. We don’t go to heaven. We go to an intermediate place. The reason is twofold: one; you don’t have your body. Your body’s out there in the cemetery, turning to dust and ashes. You don’t have your body [2 Corinthians 5:1-4]. And second: you can’t be given your reward; you don’t die when you die, your life keeps on living – the influence of your days continue. And it’s only at the end of the age that God gathers up all of the influence of your life, and it becomes your eternal reward [2 Corinthians 5:10]. And so, at the end of the day that you’re resurrected – so when we die we go to a place called Paradise, a place called Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22-23].
If I could take the opposite of that; what a tragedy when a lost person dies, he goes to a place called Tartarus or torment [Luke 16:22-28]. O God! How tragic to die without God, to die without Christ, to die in unforgiven sin! How sweet though, the gracious provision of the Lord for us who found refuge in Him! "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. And when the Lord entered glory, He was arm in arm with a lost sinner saved by the grace of the crucified One. What a marvelous thing the gospel is, if we would just listen to it and open our hearts to the message of Christ!
It’s a wonderful thing to me that when our Lord was dying, He remembered his mother. How precious! She was standing there by the apostle John. And the Lord said to John, "John, behold your mother" [John 19:27]. And "Mother, behold your son" [John 19:26]. And while our Lord was away in heaven and she was here in earth, our Lord remembered her, and John took care of her, took her that day to his own home [John 19:27]. I’m glad our Lord is so precious, and so compassionate, and so thoughtful, and so generous; always. We have a marvelous Savior! A wonderful Lord!
At twelve o’clock, the whole earth turned dark at high noon [Matthew 27:45] – and one of the evangelists will say our Lord said, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" [Matthew 27:46]. And the other one will say – the other evangelist: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" [Mark 15:34]. What happened there was that most of the Jewish people were Hellenistic Jews. They belonged to the Diaspora. They were abroad; they did not live in Jerusalem. Just as today, with all of the Jews that are returning to the Holy Land, practically all of them are still outside the Holy Land.
Well, the Hellenistic Jews were not accustomed to Aramaic, and they were not accustomed to hearing Hebrew spoken, which is a miracle of Jeremiah that’s being fulfilled today [Jeremiah 31:23]. They speak the language today; they didn’t then. The language was lost – Babylonian captivity; they never recovered it until just in our generation. Well, anyway as the Hellenistic Jews heard our Lord cry, why, they thought His "Eloi and His Eli" they thought that was Elijah; He was calling for Elijah [Matthew 27:46-47; Mark 15:34-35]. And isn’t it remarkable, even a stranger from the ends of the earth could not but be impressed with the glory and the might and the power of that dying Christ? And they said, "Let us wait. Let us wait. Let us see if Elijah comes" [Matthew 27:; Mark 15:36]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Nobody thinks of it for anybody else, Elijah going to come. They did there. Even a stranger, a Hellenistic Jew from the ends of the earth – some of them were from Great Britain where my folks came from. Some of those Hellenistic Jews from Great Britain, when they heard our Lord cry, were looking for Elijah. Remarkable!
In that darkness there were three things that our Lord said. First: the shortest of those seven cries of Jesus from the cross: "dipso," in Greek: two little words in English, "I thirst. I thirst" [John 19:28]. I could not think of a more common denominator of our Savior with humanity than that word, "I thirst." He was the great Creator, Jesus. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made by Him" [John 1:1-3]. That means that the rivers and the fountains and the very seas were all created by His omnipotent hand. And yet He cries, "I thirst" [John 19:28] with the fountains of the deep spraying out of His soul, "I thirst."
Then it is finished. "It is finished" [John 19:30]. All of the prophecies, all of them; all of the types, all of the promises find their ultimate fulfillment in Him. "It is finished" [John 19:30]. And certainly all the sacrifices found their meaning in Him. We don’t sacrifice animals anymore.
And then He bowed His head: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" [Luke 23:46], and died. What a remarkable thing, looking at the cross! "It is finished" [John 19:30], and the drops of blood that fell in the dust of the ground [John 19:34].
The drops of blood whispered
To the dust of the ground:
"It is finished."
And the dust of the ground
Whispered to the grass:
"It is finished."
And the grass whispered
To the herbs:
"It is finished."
And the herbs whispered
To the trees:
"It is finished."
And the trees whispered
To the birds in their branches:
"It is finished."
And the birds soaring upward
Cried to the clouds:
"It is finished."
And the clouds cried to the stars:
"It is finished."
And the stars cried
To the angels in heaven:
"It is finished."
And the very angels of heaven
Went up and down the golden streets
Of the City of God
And cried: "It is finished."
It is finished.
Atonement is complete.
God’s great purpose of salvation is now made plain. And the way is open for lost, sinful men to come back into the presence of the holy and infinite God. "It is finished" [John 19:30].
The rest of it you are so familiar with. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus go to Pilate and ask for His body [John 19:38-39]. And Pilate acquainted with the word that I said at the beginning – sometimes these desperate criminals suffer a week or longer on the cross. And when those two godly Sanhedrins said, "He is dead," Pilate could not believe their words, and he sent for the centurion, and inquired from the Roman centurion, "Is He dead?" [Mark 15:44].
And the centurion replied, "He is dead [Mark 15:45]. He is dead. And to make doubly sure, we broke the bones of those insurrectionists on either side. But so surely was He dead, we brake not His bones [John 19:31-33]. One of our soldiers thrust a spear into His heart. And when he withdrew it, there flowed out blood and water. He is dead. He is dead" [John 19:34-35]. And they took the body of our Lord and wrapped it in linen with spices, and tenderly, lovingly laid it away in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea [John 19:38-41].
When you look upon that scene and see our Lord die, who did that? Who crucified the Savior? Well, Judas did it. He did it, that traitor. Pontius Pilate did it. He did it, vacillating procurator. The Jewish nation did it. They did it. The Roman soldiers did it. They did it.
If you’ll search your heart, as before and unto God, you’ll say, "Lord, I did it. I did it." We drove those nails through His hands. And we crowned Him with thorns. And we thrust that spear into His side. We did it. Our sins brought our Savior to Golgotha. And our sins nailed Him to the tree.
O God, what enduring, abounding love that You would thus suffer for me and for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], that our sins might be washed away [Revelation 1:5], that someday we could stand before God pure and holy as though we had never done wrong [Jude 1:24], and be invited by the very angels, pure and tenuous – the white angels of heaven – to be invited into the city of God’s saints! O Lord, how could we ever thank Thee enough, praise Thee enough? Great God, what Jesus has done for us!
And to you who have listened to this message from God, how we could pray that without loss of one we will all someday be in heaven together. Jesus died that we might be washed clean and pure; that we might be saved [John 3:16]. And all God asks of us is that we open our hearts heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward and invite the Lord Jesus into our homes, into our hearts, into our lives and let Him be for us, the dearest, sweetest friend we could ever know. Wherever you are is a good where to give your heart to Christ. This is the time of all times that God has chosen for you to accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior. And right where you are, bow your head and say, "Lord Jesus, come into my heart. I accept Thee as my Lord and Savior." And if you don’t know what that could mean and you don’t know how that it might be done, call us. On the screen you will see a telephone number, and there will be a godly counselor there answering your call. Do it now, and may the Lord make you the dearest, happiest child of God who ever walked this pilgrim way.
And to the great throng in the house of the Lord this solemn morning hour, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me. The Lord has spoken to my heart and I am answering with my life." Some, "I want to accept Him as my Savior." Some, "I want my family to come into the fellowship of this dear church and we are all coming this morning." And others, "I am answering the call of the Spirit in my heart." As God shall press the appeal, answer with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.