God’s Master Stroke | John 19.17-22
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” John 19.17-22 | ESV
So they took Jesus in hand, and, bearing the cross on his own shoulders, he went out to the place the Greeks called Cranium, the Romans Calvary, the Jews Golgotha – in any language, it’s “The Skull.” And that’s where they crucified him – and he wasn’t alone. A condemned duo was crucified there with him, here and there with Jesus right in the middle. Pilate composed and placed a placard spelling out Jesus’ crime for all to see, right there on the cross: Jesus the Nazarene – the King of the Jews. Many of the locals passing by read it – they couldn’t miss it!
The “Skull” where Jesus was crucified was right next to the city and the placard had the charge written in the three locally significant languages (Hebrew, Latin, Greek). When the religious authorities got wind of this, they were quite miffed. They ordered Pilate to change the wording. “Don’t write The King of the Jews, but rather This Man Said ‘I Am the King of the Jews.””
Pilate wouldn’t budge. “I’ve written what I’ve written,” he said. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified. I was unsure of how to go about this, and felt totally inadequate—I was scared to death, if you want the truth of it—and so nothing I said could have impressed you or anyone else. But the Message came through anyway. God’s Spirit and God’s power did it, which made it clear that your life of faith is a response to God’s power, not to some fancy mental or emotional footwork by me or anyone else.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 | MSG
This week we enter into the holy ground of Golgotha, Calvary, the Skull.
It is the centerpiece of the Gospel Message, the Divine “master stroke.” To the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that the crucifixion of Jesus, as unpleasant and scandalous as they have deemed it culturally, socially and religiously (remember that the symbol of the cross to them was not an object of devotion but a symbol of ultimate humiliation), was at the very heart of his message; it was the very foundation of their existence as the ekklesia, the church.
Each of the four Gospel writers concur as they slow down their whirlwind narrative of all that Jesus said and did, and focus ever so painstakingly on the events of that climactic day.
We’re going to take our cue from them this week, and slow down. At least that’s the challenge. The crucifixion of Jesus is not so much something we must study, but something we must allow to study us. The challenge is to truly take in this event, and to be taken in by it.
So we will let the telling of John do the speaking this week.
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Read John’s telling aloud each day.
Sit with it.
Sit with Him.
Under the shadow of those crosses planted in the Skull, alongside gambling soldiers and a weeping mother; with callous religious hearts picking at the wording of the accusation, and demanding the breaking of crucified legs not to mercifully speed death but to keep their religious celebration on track; with trembling disciple hands stepping out of the shadows to claim the body, to do in death what they were afraid to do in life – owning Him, honoring Him.
Yes. We will find ourselves in these faces as we sit beneath these crosses, watching Him, watching all.
But we must be still.
We must see.
And we must listen.
Why is the crucifixion of Jesus “God’s master stroke”? What does the death of Jesus mean to you?
How has it changed you? How does it need to change you still?
Lord, they sat and watched you there. Give me the grace to do the same this week. Stop me at the cross. Let me not bypass or rush it for resurrection glories following. Let the cross do more than give me pause, let it accost me, arrest me, assault me. Let it leave splinters in my soul. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear. And don’t let me walk away the same. Amen.