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"The Sign and the Script"

Good Friday Service - Apr.3, 2015 10:30 a.m.Jn.19:17-30


Vv19f "Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross...Many of the Jews read this sign..." They didn't find it funny; they sensed the joke was on THEM.

We have a sign at our house that's a bit of a joke. [SHOW SIGN] A bit hard to read now, it says, "Quiet Waters - E&Y Dow & family." My father kindly made it for us 25 years ago when we owned a lovely isolated 300 acre bush lot in Northern Ontario. That bush encircled a lake of about 60 acres. You could watch the loons and beavers swim by, very copacetic. But then we had to buy a real house and sell the bush lot. We took the sign with us. Then we moved to Blyth, and our current location. There's no lake on our property now - just a ditch that carries surface runoff about 3 days a year! So the joke is, for the other 362 days each year, the "waters" are REALLY quiet - non-existent, in fact.

The sign above Jesus' head on the cross was less funny, but still a joke. Dark humour, designed more for non-Israelites. It read in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, lest anyone miss its meaning: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Its juxtaposition with the bleeding bruised dying naked man crucified below must have seemed ironic. What kind of "king" rules enthroned upon a stake? Kings belong on thrones, not crosses!

The placard itself was quite routine. Criminals on their way to be crucified would have to carry a sign around their neck stating the charge of which they had been convicted: "thief", "murderer", "rebel" etc. Then when they were crucified the sign was tacked above their head so passersby would know exactly of what crime the dying person was guilty. The Romans had this execution thing down to a science, producing maximum pain, and maximum deterrent effect.

Pilate was technically correct in that this was the charge the Jewish leaders had brought against this man. Lk 23:2 "And they began to accuse him, saying, "We have found this man subverting our nation.He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king."" Pilate examined Jesus, asking, "Are you the king of the Jews?" and later stated in conclusion, "I find no basis for a charge against him." (Jn 18:33, 38; again in 19:6) He discerned that Jesus was in fact innocent; "framed" is how we might put it. Mk 15:10 Pilate knew "it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him."

So the sign is Pilate's punch-line, a parting one-liner of a jibe against the religious authorities that had bullied Pilate into executing this preacher they wanted gone. Pilate knew the Jewish chief priests were playing a dangerous game, one with high risks. They agitated the crowd to shout for Barabbas' release instead of Jesus' (18:40), later to shout "Take him away! Crucify him!" (19:15) When Pilate clarified, "Shall I crucify your king?" the chief priests responded, "We have no king but Caesar." (19:15)

Pilate did have options here. He had soldiers at his disposal specifically to police large religious festivals such as the Passover. He could have called out the battalion and quelled the protests. It would have turned into a political fray, a violent nightmare. Some people might have been killed. The chief priests, of course, were aware of all this; they wagered they could exert enough pressure to make Pilate choose the easier option of overlooking the innocence of the man on trial. Pilate must have felt contempt for the religious leaders, who were willing to risk violence and death of their own people just to get rid of this unconventional preacher who criticized their hypocrisy. The governor knew the religious leaders could make it very tough for him back at Rome if he judged in favour of someone who represented a challenge against Roman authority. They had him in a tight spot. In the tense grim staring contest, Pilate blinked.

Yes, they would have their formalized lynching. He would send this innocent man to a tortured death, to preserve their power, assuage their pride, bowing to their ugly envy. But HE, Pilate, could choose what to write on the sign. He declared Jesus "King of the Jews". This would become a huge joke to non-Jews and Pilate's Roman buddies: "Look what we do to Jewish upstarts!" Of course, realizing this, in v21 the Jews protested that Pilate should have written Jesus CLAIMED to be 'king of the Jews' - but for once, Pilate suddenly developed some backbone; he refused to budge. "What I have written, I have written." (19:22)

Robertson comments, "The chief priests were uneasy for fear that the joke in the mock title was on THEM instead of on Jesus.They were right in their fear."

Think about it: the sign was meant to condemn the one hanging there, but in this case, the crucified person was innocent - a victim of the religious powers-that-be. Who then does the sign condemn? The Jewish leaders, yes. But more than them. The sign condemns all of us who put others down out of envy, who jockey for position, who are willing to go to ANY length to preserve our status, our livelihoods, our homes, our families... The sign condemns all of us who would save our lives at another's expense. All of us who are selfish. The joke is on US. In trying to label Him / accuse Him / insult Him, the only truly innocent sinless One, we find we ourselves are exposed for the selfish proud sinners we really are.


There is a charge against us; we are indicted. The cross on Golgotha represents the essence, the summation of all our human sins throughout history. Colossians 2:14 describes it as "the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; [God] took it away, nailing it to the cross." Who can offer compensation for this conviction, who can pay this debt? Who can "seal the deal" and get US off the hook?

In vv24-30 of John 19, 4 times in the space of 7 verses, verbs are used which have a common root (Gk.teleo) meaning "to bring to a close, finish, end, pay; make perfect, complete, accomplish, bring to the end / goal proposed". V24 "this happened that the scripture might be fulfilled..." V28 (two instances) "knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled..." And v30, Christ's last words before dying, "Jesus said, 'It is finished.'" There's a sense here of things reaching fulfilment, coming to a conclusion, being wrapped up. John MacArthur comments on the last words "It is finished": "The verb carries the idea of fulfilling one's task...The entire work of redemption had been brought to completion.The single Greek word here...has been found written on papyri receipts for taxes meaning 'paid in full'."

The SIGN atop the cross represents the bill of our guilt we cannot pay. Jesus is the Redeemer who pays the price, makes atonement that only a sinless sacrifice of infinite worth could do; the Son of God buys us back at the cost of His own life. He "closes the deal". Across the debt listing our sins throughout our whole life, Jesus' declaration from the cross "It is finished" writes in bold letters, "PAID IN FULL."

The Greek root means "to bring to a close"; Jesus is our CLOSER. His perfect substitution seals the deal, buys you back for God. In major league baseball, the term "closer" refers to a relief pitcher brought in near the last inning to pitch "the last few outs of games when their team is leading by a margin of three runs or fewer". You want the 'Closer' to "shut it down" - win the game before the other team gets ahead, given the narrow lead. Coincidentally, what's the term major league baseball made official in 1969 that's used to describe statistically a closer's success? The term is the "save"! Jesus is our "closer" who pulls off a "save" for us, when our own game was threatened in the eyes of eternal justice and righteousness.

On March 24, my father-in-law who is in a nursing home in Brussels, received a welcome 84th birthday present: the sale of his house. The deal "closes" April 10. Usually to handle real estate transactions you need to go to a lawyer's office to make arrangements. Because my father-in-law has bad hips and can't walk far, one challenge was to find a lawyer who would be willing to actually go to his room at the nursing home to get his signature on the documents. Fortunately my brother-in-law was able to find a lawyer from Listowel who was willing to "go the distance" to a nursing home in Brussels in order to "seal the deal".

Jesus is our lawyer, our advocate before the Father. Job said, "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high." (Job 16:19) 1Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." Hebrews 9:15 "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." Jesus our lawyer or advocate was willing to "go the distance" from heaven to the cross to close the deal. I don't know how much Dad's lawyer's going to cost - but it's nothing compared to what Jesus paid to ransom me and secure an eternal inheritance for me - for you!


It's kind of uncanny how, in John 19:28, Jesus knew "that all was now completed"; that the story of salvation was drawing to its conclusion, about to be wrapped up. Scripture kept getting fulfilled, prophecies from centuries ago found their enactment almost as if people were following a script. A script they didn't even know about.

Back before He was arrested, in 18:4, Jesus went out to meet His enemies "knowing all that was going to happen to Him..." Simon Peter cuts off a man's ear but Jesus commands him to put his sword away, adding: 18:11 "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Jesus willingly and voluntarily accepts the path God sets out for Him, in spite of the excruciating pain. Because He knows it's all part of the plan at the heart of the Bible.

The script-fulfilment carries on even when Jesus is immobilized on the cross. Vv23-24 "When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom."Let's not tear it," they said to one another."Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did." Quite without knowing it, those crucifying Jesus fulfill a prophecy written by Jesus' forefather David in Psalm 22:18.

V28 says "so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.'" Those nearby gave him some wine vinegar, cheap wine that had gone past its "best before" date. In so doing they fulfilled another of David's prophecies from a thousand years before: Psalm 69:21 "They gave me vinegar for my thirst."

Even after Jesus is dead, people around Him still go on fulfilling Scriptural predictions. The rebels or terrorists on either side of him have their legs broken to hasten their deaths; but that doesn't happen to Jesus because He's already dead. So is fulfilled Exodus 12:46 from Moses' time: the bones on the Passover lamb were not to be broken. Instead, one soldiers jabs a spear into Jesus' side just to make sure He's really and truly dead (no "swoon theory" here!). This action fulfills another prophecy, Zechariah 12:10 "They will look on me, the one they have pierced..."

Jesus is the conductor of the orchestra, directing the actions of even His enemies so they fulfill the scripted predictions pointing to His death as part of a long-anticipated divine plan. A script carefully crafted to make it possible for you and me to be forgiven and receive eternal life if we trust in Him. Are you willing to trust Jesus with the script of your life? Will you allow Him to author your story, your future?

Hebrews 2:10 says, "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering." The suffering and pain of the beatings and the cross were part of the Father's "perfecting" or "completing" - bringing to a 'telos' goal or end - Jesus God's Son, to pay our debt, answer the charge inscribed in capital letters against us. God makes Jesus the AUTHOR or writer or scripter of our salvation, His purpose and goal is to "bring many sons [and daughters] to glory". Let Him be your author, your Saviour, your Mediator, your Closer - to "seal the deal" today! Let's pray.