Monday, November 02, 2015

Behold the Man! (John 19:1-5)

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Behold the Man
John 19:1-5

In 1871, the Italian government commissioned Antonio Ciseri to produce yet another of his famed religious works. This one would be his last, and it could be well said that he saved the best for last. The painting was entitled Ecce Homo, or in English, “Behold the Man,” and Ciseri completed it just days before he died. The scene is that of our text today, the announcement of Pilate as he brings Jesus out following the torture, and says the crowd, “Behold the Man!” The painting is regarded today as a masterpiece for its brilliant use of light and shadows. Of course, the scene had been painted by many artists before, famous and obscure. But Ciseri did something that few if any known artists had ever done. He painted the scene with the major characters’ backs to the viewer. In almost every other painting of this scene, we look into the face of Jesus and the face of Pilate. Ciseri seems to want us, the viewers of his painting, to find ourselves there on the portico of the Praetorium, as part of the court, presenting Jesus to the world for all to see His sufferings.

Whether that was his intention or not, it is in fact what we as the followers of Christ have been called to do. We are to put the Lord Jesus on display, and allow the world to see how He has suffered, and we are to call to them, “Behold the Man!” So, how is the world to behold Him? What is it that the world should see in Him when they behold Him? The study of our text will lead us to discover the answers to this question.

I. Behold the Man who endured such undeserved suffering!

Notice in verse 4, as Pilate brings Jesus back into view of the people, he announces his verdict on Jesus’ charges: “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” It was the second time he’d announced the same verdict. In Chapter 18, verse 38, Pilate had announced, “I find no guilt in Him.” In the parallel account in Luke’s Gospel, Pilate says, “Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. Therefore I will punish Him and release Him” (Lk 23:15-16).

The irony of that statement is terrible. “He is not guilty, therefore I will punish Him.” Pilate obviously thought that this was a safe compromise. Perhaps it would appease the Jewish authorities who were demanding Jesus’ death, and teach Jesus a lesson to keep His mouth shut and avoid trouble in the future. So, verse 1 of our text says that Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. Scourging was carried out in that day in three forms. The first was a less severe beating for relatively light offenses. It was a sort of warning to the victim. The second was a bit more severe, a brutal torture rendered as a punishment for more serious crimes. The third was the most severe of all, and was always rendered alongside of additional punishments, including crucifixion. On this most severe form of scourging, the victim would be stripped down and tied to a post. Several soldiers would take turns beating the offender, until they were exhausted or their commander ordered them to cease. Typically, the beatings would involve the use of a leather whip with a handle and several ends. Later in history, these implements would be known as “the cat o’ nine tails.” In each of the leather ends, there would be embedded with pieces of bone, shards of metal, nails, or pieces of broken glass. When this whip was laid across the back, it would dig into the skin and peel it back as it was withdrawn. Eyewitness accounts indicate that such torture could leave the bones and internal organs exposed, and many victims of this form of scourging died from the injuries and blood-loss.[1]

So, which of these did Jesus endure? It is often assumed that Jesus endured the final one of these, and it is almost certain that He did. But, this would come later. Here, you will notice that this scourging takes place before Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified. Here, as in Luke, the aim was to punish Him and release Him. But in Matthew and Mark, a scourging is recorded after the death sentence. That would have been the more severe form; while the one mentioned in John and alluded to in Luke is the less severe one. The one mentioned here in our text was intended to make an example of Jesus and to placate the bloodthirst of the Jewish officials. But, make no mistake about it, when we say it was “less severe,” it was still very severe. Jesus would have come away from it beaten and bloodied. As Pilate brings Him out into plain view, He says, “Behold the Man!” It seems that he intends to say something like, “Here, are you satisfied? Even though I find no guilt in Him, I have made Him suffer.”

Friends, I want you today to “behold the Man,” Jesus Christ as one who endured such undeserved suffering. He never once protested. He never fought back, and He never tried to escape or flee. First Peter 2:22-23 says that He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats.” As John Piper said, “No one ever deserved suffering less, yet received so much. … The only person in history who did not deserve to suffer, suffered most. … None of Jesus’ pain was a penalty for His sin. He had no sin.”[2]

Behold Him, the bloody and beaten innocent Man. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Perhaps it will if we behold Him more closely through the eyes of heart and behold Him in another way.    

I invite  you to …
II. Behold the Man who bore the curse of creation.  

I love to go hiking, especially this time of year when the weather is just perfect: a warm sunny day with just a little nip of cool in the air. And sometimes when I’m feeling a little adventurous, I like to wander off the trail and explore what’s out there. You know what’s out there? Thorns. A lot of them. A lot of different kinds of them. And they all hurt. How did they get there? There is no hero of American folklore called Johnny Thornseed who went around planting all these thorns. They’re just there, all over the place, all over the world. 

The Bible actually tells us about the origin of thorns. When God created man, He placed Adam in a garden, and the Bible says that “out of the ground, the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). But there was one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that Adam was to never eat from. You know the story … the serpent tempted Eve to eat of that forbidden fruit, and she offered it to Adam, and he ate it. In the confrontation that followed between God and Adam, the Lord said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife (implying that he listened to her instead of the Lord), and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” Prior to this, there was no toil in the cultivation of the garden – the fruits and vegetables of the plants there grew readily and abundantly for Adam and Eve to enjoy. But now, because of sin, they would have to toil to provide food for themselves. The Lord said, “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (Gen 3:17-18) Weeds, thorns, thistles, and all those things that make gardening a never-ending labor came into being as a curse on the ground because of man’s sin. And the curse of sin has spread over the whole earth. Thorns are an ever-present reminder that the world is not as it ought to be, that it is under the curse of sin. As one scholar has written, “In two dozen books of the Old Testament and New Testament, thorn imagery pokes its way into poems, stories, histories and parables. … Bible writers find varied uses for such imagery, but their references to thorns are always negative.”[3] They represent the curse of sin and its effects on the world and on the human race.

There are dozens of indigenous thorn-bearing plants in the Near and Middle East. One of the most abundant varieties is the date palm. These thorns grow out from the base of the leaf-stalks and can range from four to six inches long. Injuries from these thorns are common, causing severe pain and serious infection. It is a strong possibility that these thorny date palm stalks are what the soldiers used to twist together a crown to place on Jesus’ head in verse 2 of our text. Whether it was the date palm or some other thorny plant that was used, the intent of the soldiers was to engage in a brutal game of mock-coronation with this One who was said to be styling Himself as the King of the Jews. The Jewish religious leaders considered the claim a blasphemous pretention, and they sought to persuade Pilate that Jesus was a revolutionary who posed a significant threat to Roman authority. So the soldiers engage in a bit of malicious sport with Him.

If Jesus is a king, then He should have a crown, so they fashion this wicked diadem from the thorny branches and place it upon His head. The thorns puncture the flesh and the blood begins to flow. Not content, they find an old soldier’s cloak laying around. It was once scarlet, but time and the light of the sun had faded it to a faint purple. Purple was the color of royalty, because the dye was rare and expensive. This was close enough. Now, enrobed and crowned, the ceremony can proceed. When a Roman emperor ascended to power, he would be greeted with cries of “Ave Imperator,” “Hail Emperor!” The soldiers give Jesus His own acclamation: “Hail, King of the Jews!” But their salutations are accompanied by slaps to the face. Matthew says that they spat on Him, and beat Him in the head with a reed that they had given Him as a mock scepter. Every strike of that reed drove the thorns deeper (27:30).

Though their intention was shame and mockery, the soldiers acted better than they knew. This Man whom they crowned with thorns was indeed bearing the curse of sin upon His head. He is the promised Redeemer who would come into the world to take away sin and its curse by His suffering, His death, and His resurrection. Thus, the sinless Jesus was bearing upon His head the thorns that grow in this world because of our rebellion against Almighty God, dating back to the first man, Adam, and continuing through the lives of every single one of his descendants.

In words often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th Century monk and preacher, our hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” expresses the truth beautifully:

O sacred Head, now wounded with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown.
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn;
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.

Behold the Man who bears the curse of sin that was upon all creation here upon His head, this crowny thorn that precedes the bloody cross. He bore our curse in our place, as a substitute of the righteous for the sinful. “Behold Him,” Pilate said to the crowd. See what the evil of human sin has done to the sinless One who is presented before us all. We must behold Him! Behold the Man who endured such undeserved suffering! Behold the Man who bears the curse of all creation! And finally …

III. Behold the Man who reconciles us to God.

Today we have planned our worship service around the commemoration of Reformation Day – the anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church door, October 31, 1517, 498 years ago yesterday. We began our service by reading the Scripture passage that opened Luther’s eyes to the light of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone – Romans 1:13-17. We sang Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” We sang the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord,” as a reminder that the true Church of Jesus Christ reemerged through the Gospel preaching of the Reformers. We sang “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” written by Isaac Watts, a descendant of the English Reformation, which reminds us that the same God who was active and at work in history is still active and at work now, and will be forevermore. One of the great triumphs of the Reformation was returning the Word of God to the common man by making it available in the vernacular of Christians around the world. Luther was a pioneer in this, translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German. Luther would call this his crowning achievement. And when he came to John 19:5, Luther translated Pilate’s words into a German phrase that we could most literally translate into English as, “Behold! What a Man!” Though Luther’s translation might have missed the mark of Pilate’s intention, the words are a fitting response from all who behold the Lord Jesus! “Behold! What a Man!”

Of course, Jesus was more than just a Man. He is the incarnate God! He is the Living Word of God, who existed from the beginning with God and as God, and who became flesh to dwell among us (Jn 1:1, 14). But though Jesus was more than a Man, He was fully a Man. He was the perfect Man, the Man who lived His entire earthly life in human flesh without sin and in perfect obedience to the will and word of His Father. In His fully human body, He suffered, and bled and died. He endured the full measure of sufferings that were due to us because of our sin, enduring the full outpouring of human hatred in His sufferings, and the righteous wrath of God in His death. He did this so that our sins could be dealt with fully and finally in Himself as our substitute sin-bearer, that we might be forgiven, declared righteous, and reconciled to God by faith in Him. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Behold the Man who reconciles us to God by the sufferings He endured in His body, by the death He died in our place, and by the resurrection by which He defeated sin and death, broke the curse, and set us free to live for God now, and with God forever in heaven.

He wore the crown of thorns for us, that we might wear the crown of victory with Him. He wore the robe of shame and humiliation for us, that we might wear the robe of righteousness bestowed upon us by Him. He bore all the contempt of sinful humanity for a season on earth, that we might bear the glory of grace forever in heaven. And there, we shall behold Him, not as the beaten, bloody and broken sufferer, but as the glorious conqueror; not as the thorn-crowned King, but as the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

A story is told of Count Nicholaus Von Zinzendorf, the 18th Century German nobleman. As a young man, after completing his studies, Zinzendorf set out to travel for an extended period. While visiting an art gallery in Dusseldorf, he came upon a painting by Domenica Feti entitled Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”). It is a portrait of Christ, wearing the crown of thorns, with a weary expression upon His face. Across the bottom of the painting, Feti had inscribed these words in Latin: “This have I suffered for you; now what will you do for Me?” Zinzendorf was struck by these words for some time. Ultimately, he devoted himself to the service of Christ, and helped shape the Moravian Church into one of the mightiest Christian missionary movements in history. Zinzendorf beheld the Man, and it transformed him, and as a result, he impacted the world for Christ.

Have you beheld the Man? O that we all might behold Him by faith as the One who bore our sufferings and broke our curse to reconcile us to God! Behold Him, and follow Him with your life! Behold the Man!





[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 597.
[2] John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 67-68.
[3] Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, gen. eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1998), 865.

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