Skip to main content

The Power of the Passion

I would like to highlight for you seven aspects of the passion narrative of Jesus from John 19:16-42....

First, there is the timing of the Passion.

As William Barclay points out, John gives us a different picture of the timing of the Passion from the Synoptic Gospels. Barclay writes,

Undoubtedly Mark wished to show the Last Supper as a Passover meal and that Jesus was crucified on Passover day; and Matthew and Luke follow Mark.

On the other hand John is quite clear that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Passover….

There is here a contradiction for which there is no compromise solution. Either the Synoptic gospels are correct or John is. Scholars are much divided. But it seems most likely that the Synoptics are correct. John was always looking for hidden meanings. In his story Jesus is crucified at somewhere near the sixth hour (Jn 19:14). It was just then that in the Temple the Passover lambs were being killed. By far the likeliest thing is that John dated things in order that Jesus would be crucified at exactly the same time as the Passover lambs were being killed, so that he might be seen as the great Passover Lamb who saved his people and took away the sins of the world. It seems that the Synoptic gospels are right in fact, while John is right in truth; and John was always more interested in eternal truth than in mere historic fact.

A second thing I would like to point out is the Notice of the Passion.

Pilate had a notice fastened to the cross, proclaiming Jesus’ crime: his claim to be the King of the Jews. The Jewish leaders wanted Pilate to spell out the fact that this was just a claim, not a fact. However, Pilate refused to budge.

What I think is striking is that this notice was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Aramaic was the language of the Jews and, in a sense, represents religion. Latin was the language of law and government for the Roman Empire. Greek was the everyday language of that empire and represented the world of culture and beauty in form and in thought.

Jesus came to fulfill the hopes of all three of these: the worlds of culture, government, and religion. He also came to redeem all three of these worlds, for all of them, including religion, go astray without him.

A third thing to notice in this passage is the Gamble of the Passion.

At the foot of the cross, the soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus’ seamless undergarment. This was the case because there were four soldiers and five articles of clothing to divide. Every Jew in Jesus’ day wore shoes, a turban, a girdle, a tunic and an outer robe.

The soldiers were gamblers, but Jesus was too. Studdert Kennedy once wrote the following poem:

And, sitting down, they watched him there,
The soldiers did;
There, while they played at dice,
He made his sacrifice,
And died upon his Cross to rid
God’s world of sin.
He was a gambler, too, my Christ.
He took his life and threw
It for a world redeemed.
And ere the agony was done,
Before the westering sun went down,
Crowning that day with its crimson crown,
He knew that he had won.

The soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garment; Jesus gambled for people’s souls. Furthermore, there is a sense also in which every Christian is a gambler. We bet our lives on the belief that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, that he died for sinners, and that he truly rose up again from the grave.

Fourth, we must take notice of the Companions of the Passion.

There were four women at the cross. One was Jesus’ mother Mary. Simeon had prophesied to Mary at the beginning of Jesus’ life, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35) Certainly, as the sword pierced Jesus’ body, it also pierced Mary’s soul. Mary suffered at least as much as any mother who has lost a child, perhaps more because of the horrific nature of Jesus’ death and the contrasting goodness she knew belonged to her son.

The second woman mentioned at the cross was Mary’s sister, Jesus’ aunt. In the Gospel of John, she does not have a name. However, when one studies the parallel passages in Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:56, it is clear that her name is Salome and that she is the mother of Jesus’ disciples, James and John.

On one occasion, Jesus gave a very stern answer to his aunt. Salome had asked Jesus if her sons could sit on his right and on his left in his kingdom. Jesus told her she had no idea what she was asking. Then he asked a counter question of James and John, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:20 ff.) Now Salome was seeing the very bitter cup that Jesus had to drink.

The third woman at the cross we know nothing about: Mary the wife of Clopas.

However, the fourth woman at the cross we know a little bit more about. Her name was Mary Magdalene, and according to Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2, Jesus drove seven demons out of her. No wonder she followed Jesus all the way to the cross! She could never forget the great thing he had done for her.

The final companion of Jesus we see at the cross is “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. By the end of this Gospel, we will learn that this is John, the son of Zebedee and Salome, the cousin of Jesus and the author of this Gospel.

Right through to the end of his life, Jesus was not thinking about himself, but about others. He knew someone would need to care for his mother Mary. He entrusted that job to his beloved cousin John, even while he was suffering great physical torment on the cross.

Fifth, there is the Culmination of the Passion.

John continues to show us, as he has from the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus’ full humanity as well as his full divinity, Jesus’ suffering and his triumph. We see Jesus’ full humanity in his words: “I am thirsty.” We see Jesus’ triumph in his words: “It is finished.”

That last phrase is one word in Greek: “tetelestai”. In those days, a merchant would stamp this word on a bill, when the customer had paid in full. Jesus paid in full for all of our sins. When he died on the cross, he knew his work was complete.

Sixth, we see in this passage the importance of the Blood of the Passion.

John sees in all the events of the Passion a fulfillment of various Hebrew Scriptures, but he also most likely saw a special significance to the blood and water that he saw flow from Jesus’ side when the Roman soldier pierced it with his sword.

On the physical side of things, the reason for the blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ body was that his heart had ruptured and the blood mingled with the fluid of the pericardium. The sword must have pierced the pericardium and thus “blood and water” flowed out. Once again, this emphasizes the full humanity of Jesus as well as the fact that he really died on the cross, something that some people down through history have amazingly questioned.

However, William Barclay suggest that there was also a spiritual meaning in this for John:

It was a symbol of the two great sacraments of the Church. There is one sacrament which is based on water—baptism; and there is one which is based on blood—the Lord’s Supper with its cup of blood-red wine. The water of baptism is the sign of the cleansing grace of God in Jesus Christ; the wine of the Lord’s Supper is the symbol of the blood which was shed to save men from their sins.

We sing about this in the great hymn:

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Finally, we come to the Burial after the Passion.

Two more great characters come into play here: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Ruling Council. Both, apparently, were secret followers of Jesus. Nicodemus we have seen before, approaching Jesus under cover of darkness and asking how a man might be born again.

Now we see both men beginning just such a new life, taking bold steps of courage and openly declaring their love for our Lord. Joseph does this by asking permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body and using his own tomb for the purpose. Nicodemus shows his devotion to the Master by bringing the linens and spices to embalm the body.

As someone once said, “It is not possible to be a secret disciple of Jesus. Either the secrecy kills the discipleship or the discipleship kills the secrecy.” Thankfully, in the case of Joseph and Nicodemus, discipleship overcame secrecy, shyness, and fear.

The power of Jesus’ passion does that to people. Jesus prophesied that it would. He said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

When I was twelve years old, I heard Robert Schuller on television preach a message about forgiveness that changed my life. I understood for the first time that Jesus had died for me. For the first time in my life, I felt forgiven of my sin. That day I felt like I was floating on air. The love of Jesus, demonstrated for me on the cross, made me want to follow Jesus for the rest of my life. And that is what I have sought to do, though not always as perfectly as I would like.

Has the power of Jesus’ passion changed your life? 


Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity

Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.

Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....

Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....

C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday ( got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…

The Shepherds' Perspective on Christmas

On December 21, 2015, the following headline appeared in the International Business Times: “Bethlehem Christmas 2015 Cancelled”. To be fully accurate, religious celebrations of Jesus’ birth went forward last year in Bethlehem, but many of the secular celebrations of Christmas that usually surround it were toned down due to instability in the area. Looking back a decade, there was even one year when Christian Arabs canceled community celebrations of Christmas in support of the Palestinian uprising. However, the Jewish government would have no part of that, so the Israeli military sponsored its own holiday celebrations in the area.
It is also interesting to note who celebrated the first Christmas and who didn’t. The first Christmas was not celebrated by the emperor Caesar Augustus, nor Quirinius, the governor of Syria, nor was it celebrated by the lowly innkeeper. But Christmas was celebrated by a few lonely shepherds along with Joseph and Mary and the angels of heaven.
How amazing that t…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…