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At the Cross (John 19:16-42) – Mark Ottaway

At the Cross

John 19:16-42


Turn to John 19.

“So he then delivered Him over to them to be crucified.”

John 19:16 (LSB)


This is really the focus of the entire gospel of John as everything that happens in His book is moving in this direction. If we were telling of the life of a great inventor we might tell of all he did right up to the climax of his invention, or the story of Christopher Columbus when he finally made it to America. It is interesting that if you read all four gospels, by far the storyline leads to the cross. We have just completed the gospel of Mark in our church read and though the book only has sixteen chapters, chapters 11-15 (five chapters) deal with the coming to Jerusalem and the crucifixion. The resurrection is almost an afterthought. And of course, the resurrection becomes a great theme more of later writers like Paul. For if you were reading the story from a purely gospel aspect, you would likely understand the crucifixion as the whole point of Jesus’ life and the resurrection as the added happy ending. And this is really true of the gospels, as most of the description is around the crucifixion, much more than the resurrection. Now this certainly does not diminish the resurrection, but it does place such significance on the cross.


Now as we go through this account this morning of the crucifixion, there are of course three other accounts to draw on. And we might mention some facts given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke for mostly clarification, but I do want to stay mainly with John’s account. Admittedly, one of my favourite times each week is Tuesday, as it is usually Tuesdays that I begin looking closely at the week’s passage, and I enjoy so much creating an outline. So, as we look at John 19:16-42, I see six focused areas. So, let’s begin to go through these as we will comment as we go. The first we have already mentioned.


  1. The Climax of the Cross (vs 16-18)


“They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.”

John 19:17-18 (LSB)


We can be fooled into getting a romanticized picture of the cross, but this does not come from the Bible. We see here Jesus carrying His own cross. At some point, a gentleman by the name of Simon the Cyrene carries the cross for Christ, but John just writes that Jesus carried the cross. Always good to remember that the gospels are four different eyewitness accounts of the same events. Some saw some things, others saw other things, and each recorded what they recorded. Now the place of crucifixion is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. This is the Greek word kranion which is translated here Skull, the Place of the Skull. And the word in Hebrew is Golgotha which it said here in the text and says the same thing in the KJ, ESV, and others. The same word kranion in Latin is the word Calvary, as the KJ chooses to translate it this way in Luke 23:33. The Place of the Skull may be called this because the formation of the rock looked like a skull. However, in practical terms, it may have been called this because of the thousands of Roman crucifixions that took place here, and there were literally skulls everywhere.


So, we sort of have two sides going on here. First, we have the Place of the Skull or the Hebrew word Golgotha, which brings us thoughts of death, cruelty, torture, agony; which is a true picture of the cross. As there is no way to try to soften the picture, as the ugliness of the description aligns with the ugliness of the event. In other words, it is as bad as it appears, as what is about to happen here is that Christ will take upon Himself the sin of all believers, as the wrath of God towards the sinner for eternity is placed upon Christ in these three hours on the cross. So, we have said that it is as bad as it appears, but it is actually worse, for we do not see nor do we understand the spiritual anguish of Christ. Many men had been crucified by Rome. Many of the skulls that surrounded the cross signified that. Many men, some I suppose guilty and others may have been innocent of the crimes that they were accused of, but all of them likely screamed in horror because of the conditions of being crucified. Michael J. Caba wrote:

“We have seen the widespread practice of crucifixion in its various forms, from single stakes to other wooden configurations. The sufferers, being affixed by a variety of means, were often physically tortured beforehand, and, in many cases, psychologically humiliated as well, with final death occurring via a variety of possible bodily failures. Further, the overall practice was reserved primarily for the most reviled of perpetrators, including criminals, traitors, enemy combatants and the like. In effect, it was a horrible punishment reserved for the despised, and it was used to warn an observant public of the consequences meted out for certain behaviors.”

Michael J. Caba


I am not sure about the effect upon a person who was there at the cross and who knew Jesus. We see one of the thieves who was beside Christ realize something good about Jesus. We see one Roman centurion who understood the injustice of Jesus being crucified. And crucifixion was a slow death. The crosspiece would be placed under their shoulders and their hands would be attached to the wood by spikes through their hands. Then the crosspiece would be attached to the actual main post, and the feet would be secured usually by one spike allowing the knees to be slightly bent so the person could push to relieve some pain and to be able to breathe. But each time a person would push to breathe, the wound in the feet would grow larger. There have been recordings of those who lasted for up to two or three days alive on a cross. It is interesting the English word “excruciating” comes from the Latin word excruciatus, which literally means, “from out of the cross.” But I do not believe any of us can really appreciate the horror of the event. Even if we had been there and seen the physical agony of these men crucified, but then combined that with the spiritual anguish of Jesus. Certainly, our time each week when we partake of the Lord’s Table, to try as we may, to remember our Lord; who, as Paul wrote, was willing to become obedient to death, even death on a cross.


But secondly, the word kranion in Latin is translated as Calvary. I do not know why the KJ chooses to translate it in Latin in Luke 23, while mentioning the Hebrew word Golgotha here in John 19, which both mean skull. Nonetheless, if there was any word that is so enduring to Christians down through history it is the word Calvary, for Calvary is one of those words for the believer that brings such memories and comfort. Rightly or wrongly in my mind, Golgotha brings the thought of the agony of the cross, while the same word Calvary brings the thought of the victory of the cross. And some have called Calvary the pinnacle, the mountaintop of the Word of God, where Christ secured the eternal salvation and eternal forgiveness for all those who would place their faith and trust in Him. We tend not to sing songs like “Golgotha Covers It All,” or the “Place of the Skull” covers it all. No, we sing, “Calvary Covers it All,” and we sing “There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary,” or “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.” There is certainly a two-sided coin at the cross. And we can never downplay either like so many truths of the Bible, both the horrific truth of the cross, along with the victory and the comfort of the cross.

“And Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews;” but that He said, “I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’”

John 19:19-22 (LSB)


  1. The Sovereign Majesty of Christ (vs 19-22)


Hard to know why Pilate stuck to his guns to leave the sign above Christ. We do not get any indication that Pilate liked these Jewish leaders, but we also do not get any indication that Pilate was struck with any truth of this whole incident, other than maybe feeling a little guilt. But the sign made by the Romans was true, wasn’t it? For Jesus was king, for He came from the kingly line of Judah through the great kings of Israel, men like David, Solomon, and Hezekiah. Not that anyone really would have known, for Jesus’ father was a carpenter, though he was part of the kingly line. And when Jesus arrived there was no real nation to rule as Israel had been conquered. In fact, it had been centuries since Israel had a king on a throne. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, had his eyes gouged out by the Babylonians, as they had been in captivity since under Babylon, then Assyria, then Persia, and now Rome.


So, the inscription said, “The king of the Jews.” So often there would be a charge written above the criminal. So, this could be a charge against Christ, that He claimed to be king. It could also be that Pilate was anxious to humiliate the Jews, in other words, look at your king! Yet whatever, the inscription is true, as Jesus is king. And here I believe we see the sovereign hand of God through the stubbornness of Pilate saying, “What I have written I have written.” Not unlike when Caiaphas had said earlier that it would be better for one man to die for the nation. Again, having no idea of the truth that he was speaking. Interesting that when it comes to truth, ultimately people will acknowledge Him, whether they know it or not. A pagan ruler writes here that Jesus is king. A sinning priest says that Jesus would die for His people. Peter had proclaimed that even the winds and the waves obey Him. Eventually, the rocks will praise Christ, and ultimately every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord. The sovereign majesty of Christ

“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, a part to each soldier and also His tunic; now that tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be;’ this was in order that the Scripture would be fulfilled: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ Therefore the soldiers did these things.”

John 19:23-25a (LSB)


  1. The Indifference toward the Cross (vs 23-25a)


Easy to point at these soldiers for their insensitivity toward Christ. Obviously, their jobs made them rather callous toward such brutality. But in reality, whatever kind of indifferent reaction is toward Jesus is much the same, as choosing anything over Christ is really the same thing. They wrestled over His garments, yet Christ owns everything that we might wrestle over. I am not sure how wealthy these guys would have been as Roman soldiers. We picture them as sort of obnoxious and drinkers, but they also likely had families. But really whether someone looked with a little sympathy, but went home to their house later on, or those who were afraid and had run before all this was happening. Or I suppose today when people choose anything over Christ, when we gather for worship, it really doesn’t take much to keep some away. Or instead of giving to ministry, that one-piece outfit is more attractive or that one-of-a-kind power tool is just what we need.


Probably my father’s most often prayer was Lord, may I not be indifferent towards You. And what Dad was always trying to be mindful of was to be careful that He did not place an idol before Christ, whether that was a person or thing or event that would ever come in between His love for His Saviour. That could be a prayer for many of us. Lord, if we could keep that fire for You alive always, in everything. Might there never be anything between us, whether sin or even something good.

“But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

John 19:25b-27 (LSB)


  1. The Closeness of Believers (vs 25b-27)


I know this is an unusual one, but these three verses just impressed upon me the value in fellow believers, that when life gets the toughest, where do you and I find ourselves? And I know we have a strong connection with family, and that is good and often a blessing, and often many in our families know the Lord. But whether that is blood family or brothers and sisters in Christ, when things get tough and desperate, where do you run? Who are you with? I would trust that when things get really difficult, we might be found with fellow believers. As there is such a bond between believers because they share at the most troubling times their sadness together, which even brings comfort during extreme times of sadness and hurt. Some might rather be alone. Some might rather be with family even if they are unsaved. But these at the cross chose to be with others who believed. And that does not happen automatically, as those relationships must be cultivated during the easier times. That yes, we enjoy family and yes, we enjoy unsaved friends, but ultimately, we need to be found with fellow believers. For to say that I love Christ, but do not have close Christian friendships is somewhat foreign in the Bible. The Bible teaches that as married couples we are to be faithful to each other and love each other. We are to love and care for our children. We know these are such high Christian values. But let us not forget that Jesus also said things such as:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, and yet even his own life, he is not able to be My disciple.”

Luke 14:26 (LSB)


And the Apostle Paul wrote:

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

Gal 6:10 (LSB)


The importance of fellow believers.

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been finished, in order to finish the Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Then the Jews, because it was the day of Preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass in order that the Scripture would be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’”

John 19:28-37 (LSB)


  1. The Fulfillment of Scripture (vs 28-37)


I understand the death of Christ was a physical death, a death that He had to die to fulfill the Scriptures. However, all four gospels seem to indicate that the price for sin had been paid, that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” the payment was over. Yes, the physical pain was still there, but the forsaking that Christ experienced on the cross from the Father was over, eternal sin had been dealt with. Interesting that earlier in the crucifixion (Matt 27:52) Jesus refuses to take a drink. Possibly He was not willing to soften the pain. Whereas now that “It is finished” He received the sour wine. John MacArthur wrote that prior to this Christ would endure the full measure of pain, physical, mental, and spiritual. In the Apostles Creed, there is a line that speaks of Jesus going to hell after His death. Some would hold that He further was punished for our sin for the three days in the grave. But I believe this to be heretical, for the payment for our sins was on the cross when that Father turned His back on His Son, as the only mention in the Bible is that of Christ going to the spirits in prison (1 Pet 3:18-20). After His death was, not to be further punished, but to proclaim His victory over sin and death. In Colossians 2:15 we read that “having [been] nailed to the cross.” Jesus “Having disarmed the rulers and authorities [Satan’s armies], He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them.” We get the picture here that just when Satan and his armies thought that they had killed the Son of God, Christ shows up before them in victory. And of course, we know that the thief on the cross was promised that that very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise.


And all these events (vs 28-37) are fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures, for we read here that when they came to Jesus to quicken His death, He was already dead. What was happening here is that most often victims hung on the cross for a few days before death, and eventually their bodies would rot and they would be eaten by vultures. If, for some reason, the Romans wanted to quicken the death, they would smash the victims’ legs with iron mallets causing them to bleed to death and no longer be able to raise themselves to breathe. But actually, Mosaic Law forbade anyone to hang on a cross overnight, and if it did happen it would be a curse and would desecrate the land. And doubly troubling for the Jews was this was the Day of Preparation for the Sabbath, and therefore, they wanted to get the bodies down from the cross. In Exodus 12:46, we read that no bone of the Passover lamb could be broken; and in Psalm 34:20, it says that “He keeps all of His bones, not one of them is broken.” And also, John records (vs 37) that “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” And hundreds of years earlier Zechariah wrote:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

Zech 12:10 (LSB)


The crucifixion was very public wasn’t it? And a further fulfillment of this prophecy is yet to come. Revelation 1:7 says:

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.”

Rev 1:7 (LSB)


And the fact that John mentions that when they pierced Jesus that blood and water gushed out

  • is really a confirmation that Jesus was indeed dead


  • here we have a firsthand account of a man who was there and who had seen it
  • and of course, his purpose for telling us (vs 35) was so that you also may believe

* vs 38-42 * … finally


  1. The Loyalty of Some (vs 38-42)


So here we have Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night way back in John 3. Jesus had talked to Nicodemus about the Son of Man being lifted up, and here he is present for the actual event, We do read again about Nicodemus in John 7 where he does speak up for Christ in front of the other religious leaders and now here again. Now all four gospels record this brave action by Joseph. Interesting that Joseph of Arimathea, like Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Joseph of Arimathea in Luke’s gospel is called a good and righteous man. In Mark, he is described as one who was looking for the kingdom of God. And in Matthew and here in John, he is called a disciple of Jesus. True, these two do come secretly, but they do come, and eventually it becomes known. Understand that these men, both likely very wealthy, could have easily paid a slave to do what they did.


Michael Chung writes that both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gave up “their secrecy and risked their position to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.” So, this was a brave response to a test of faith for both of these men, and this boldness came upon Nicodemus after he had seen his Lord “lifted up.” The majesty of Christ as He gives His life for sinners. Most, like today, were indifferent, yet some gathered and were loyal to Him. At the Cross. Let’s pray. Father, our hearts are moved this morning as we stand “At the Cross,” witnessing what You were willing to do for those whom You loved. We praise You for Your perfect life, which was the perfect sacrifice for sin, acceptable to the Father, and that all these events were part of Your divine plan, determined before the foundation of the world. And even in our fear and weakness as humans, Lord, would You grant to us boldness? That we would live is such a way that is influenced by what we have seen at the cross. For we ask these things in the name of Christ, amen.


We think of this group mentioned in (vs 25), Jesus’ mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and probably John the writer himself, along here with Joseph and Nicodemus. And we know others may have been around and others who believed but still fled. Like the Apostle Peter and most of the other disciples. But whoever His followers were, it was a small group. The Apostle Paul said:

“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”

1 Cor 9:22 (LSB)


Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Matt 7:13-14 (LSB)


The point is, is that the way of salvation and those who follow are generally going to be the minority, the small. You know we speak about the way Christianity is shrinking in our culture, but really, the norm since New Testament times is that most will not follow Christ. What we have seen in North America since some of the revivals over the past two hundred years is not the norm. That the church would be a smaller group of individuals is really how most have served Christ for two thousand years and do so today. So, to think that the smallness of Christianity is a weakness is not necessarily true. Young people, when you feel that you at times are serving Christ alone at your school, that’s nothing to be ashamed of, for it is actually a wonderful privilege. That is really how we often must serve Christ. For to think that Jesus lived on the earth for thirty-three years and that he became “famous” throughout Judea as the crowds followed Him. This is the very reason that the religious leaders could not just stone Jesus, as He was far too popular for them to quietly get away with that, and that Jesus had just days earlier rode into Jerusalem with great fanfare.


And yet, here at the cross, only a handful of people are there with Him. That ought to teach us something. The importance of Christianity is not always in the numbers. No, the importance of Christianity is our commitment to Him. How loyal are we to Christ? Especially when something happens that seems to be tragic and fearful like the cross. I like to think that I would have been there, but I am not sure. I may have the same confidence that Peter had, and then choose to bail. But I believe we can all agree with this: that loyalty to Jesus Christ is the greatest decision that we can ever make in life. For no one cares for us as much as Christ. No one loves us more than Christ does. And no one has done as much for us as Christ. Chuck Swindoll once said that the problem with Jesus’ teaching was that it continually diminished the number of workers. He said, “It was commitment that thinned the ranks.” So, the question for us here this morning as we consider all that our Saviour has done for us at the cross is am I willing to commit my life to Him? In other words, is His sacrifice worthy of my loyalty and my service to Him? Let’s pray. The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Lord, we glory this morning in the cross. In the cross, in the cross be my glory ever. May we always live with the reality of the cross. And all God’s people said, amen.