(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Arrest, Trial and Crucifixion of the King
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
“Father, the time has come,” Jesus prayed. His teaching and healing ministry was over; the cross was just ahead. His prayer, as John recorded it, focused not on his own well-being but on his followers. He asked God to guard the disciples as they faced a hostile world. He also asked God to empower “those who believe in me because of their word”—i.e. Christians through the ages, including us—to live united in love.
The authorities arrested Jesus, and his rigged trial began. Peter, who said, “I’ll give up my life for you” (John 13:37), bravely drew his sword to defend Jesus. But living for Jesus proved harder. Questioned by potentially hostile people, he three times denied that he knew Jesus—just as Jesus had warned him he would (cf. John 13:38).
The Jewish leaders, staying ritually “clean” while seeking Jesus’ death, took him to Pilate, the Roman procurator. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate tried to find a politically palatable way to free a clearly innocent man. The religious leaders insisted—“we have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.” Locked in their earth-bound outlook, most of them never thought seriously that his claim might be credible.
Jesus’ mockery of a trial was almost over. He had already suffered incredibly, flogged and abused by the Roman soldiers (cf. John 19:1-5). But the Jewish leaders wanted more. Pilate asked, “Do you want me to crucify your king?” Betraying not just their nation but their God, they said, “We have no king except the emperor.” Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified. God in the flesh, without sin or fault, was condemned to die a brutal death.
With Jesus on the cross, Roman soldiers gambled for his clothes (cf. Psalm 22:18)—to them, crucifying criminals was routine. Jesus entrusted his mother to the care of “the disciple whom he loved.” He, the source of “living water” (cf. John 4:14) said he thirsted. John underlined Jesus’ identity as “our Passover lamb” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7) by specifying a hyssop branch (cf. Exodus 12:22). Then Jesus said, “It is completed” and died. At infinite cost, God’s great saving work for humanity was completed.
In the Genesis 2 story, human life began in a garden. In John 18:1 John alluded to Genesis by saying Jesus went into a garden. (People often speak of the Garden of Gethsemane, but none of the other three gospels used the word “garden.”) After Jesus’ death, John recorded that two secret, wealthy followers of Jesus provided for his burial. Again he noted that there was a garden where Jesus body was laid to rest. Jesus’ post-resurrection life would begin in a garden—this would be humanity made new, creation set to rights.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
O God, we thank you for eternal life, for defeating evil and death. We recommit ourselves to our King, Jesus Christ. We thank you that you were willing to suffer and die for us; we are sorry for the times we have denied you for fear of ridicule or rejection. Lord, make us living, breathing answers to your prayer. We open ourselves to the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
The word “martyr” means “A person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.” Are there any American martyrs you can think of? Which ones do you particularly admire and why?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 17:1-26. Jesus asked to be glorified so that both he and the Father might be glorified before humankind. How could dying on a cross “glorify” anyone? What purpose did the glorification of the Father and the Son serve? Everything Jesus did was done to glorify God the Father. What does this say about how we should live our lives? Jesus said, “I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” What does “sanctify” mean? Was Jesus only referring to his disciples, or to all who would believe in him? How does this change how you think we should act toward one another?
Read John 18:1-27. Why did the soldiers draw back and fall to the ground after Jesus said “I Am”? What do you imagine Peter thought as he shivered in the high priest’s courtyard? Peter was brave enough to draw his sword to defend Jesus, yet later denied being a follower. What was the difference? Can all of us see ourselves in these two sides of Peter? Did God forgive Peter for his weakness? Does God forgive us for our weaknesses? Are you, like Peter, ever intimidated by the influence or power of some non-believers? Does your faith grow as you learn from occasional feelings of intimidation?
Read John 18:28-19:7. The Jewish leaders stayed “ritually clean” by not entering the Roman palace. In what ways were their actions unclean? Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” What did he mean? “The Jewish leaders insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God’” (verse 7). They found Jesus’ claims false. Do you know anyone who feels that way? What reasons lead you to find Jesus’ claims credible?
Read John 19:8-16. The Jewish leaders insisted that Jesus be crucified for claiming to be the Son of God. Why did this make Pilate “even more afraid”? Politically, what did Pilate fear? Do you think something deeper also made Pilate afraid, as when he asked Jesus “Where are you from” (verse 9)? Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” Why did he feel the need to ask permission? Was he laying potential blame on the Jewish leaders?
Read John 19:17-30. Although the Jews protested, the sign on the cross read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Was this sign correct? Why did Jesus say to John, “Here is your mother,” and why did John take her into his home? Had Joseph probably died? What about Jesus’ brothers (cf. John 7:5)? What was the significance of Jesus saying, just before he died, ‘I am thirsty”? Was he, at that moment, thirsty for God’s “living water”?
Read John 19:31-42. In what ways did Jesus’ crucifixion fulfill Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s death? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both Sanhedrin members, claimed Christ’s body, prepared it, and provided the tomb. Do you think they regretted their apparent silence during Christ’s trial? Was it risky for them even to claim Christ’s body? Did Christ’s followers expect his resurrection, or did they think his death, like any other death, was final?
From last week: Did you focus on this season of Lent? During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Did you do this? Share with the group how these practices affected your week.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, March 17, 2013:
One major theme in John’s account is that it is precisely in his suffering that Jesus is revealed to be the long-awaited messianic king. It is here we see his glory as he suffers and dies on the cross, giving himself to save the world….John says a “cohort” of soldiers came to arrest Jesus. A cohort was 200 soldiers at the very least. It was a dramatic number to show the perceived threat Jesus represented. In 18:4-6: [Jesus] asked, “Who are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said, “I Am.” We learned that the words, “I Am” in Greek–ego eimi—are equivalent to the Hebrew Yahweh—God’s personal name which means “I am that I am” or “I am life (or being) itself.” John says, “When Jesus said to them, ‘I Am,’ they shrank back and fell to the ground.” When Jesus speaks his name, 200 soldiers shrink back! I used to play a game with my small children. They would tackle me, wrap their arms and legs around my legs and say, “We’ve got you, Daddy!” I would toss them over my shoulders and say, “Now, who has who?” You have this Mighty King, the soldiers shrinking back, who then willingly presents himself for arrest….
15 times in the 30 verses that describe Jesus’ trial before Pilate and his crucifixion the word “king” or “kingdom” is used. Let’s turn to John 18:33-37. Listen: “Pilate entered the headquarters…summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’…Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.’”
Jesus acknowledges that he is a king, but his kingdom is not like those of this world. It transcends physical boundaries and even time. It is made up of all who believe in him and seek to love God and neighbor. It is a kingdom of truth, and light, and life.
Pilate repeatedly notes that he finds no basis for executing Jesus. But the religious leaders demand Jesus’ crucifixion. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him.” I want to note that this wasn’t really the trial of Jesus. It was actually the trial of Pontius Pilate and of the religious leaders. Pilate talked with the King, sensed that he was more than he seemed, called him a king repeatedly, yet his concern for his own career led him to send Christ to die.
Many times members of our congregation have had to struggle with whether to do something they knew was wrong in order to keep their job, or to stand with Christ regardless of the cost. One of them I’ve been praying for this week. Some years ago he ran a small, struggling IT company. He was offered $100,000 to host a porn site. That money would have made the difference between staying in business and closing. He turned it down believing it would hurt others and compromise his faith. A saleswoman I know left a company because they were making false claims for their product. These trials come where we decide: career or Christ….
John 19:14 says: “Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon.” Here’s one place where John differs from the Synoptics. In Matthew Mark and Luke, Jesus is crucified on the first day of the Passover at 9:00 a.m. But John tells us he was crucified at noon on the Day of Preparation, the day before the first full day of Passover.
Your Jewish friends celebrate the Passover this week. What are they celebrating? 1,300 years before Jesus’ birth the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh refused to release them, until God sent a plague in which every firstborn animal and child would die. God told the Israelites to slaughter a lamb, roast and eat it. They were to take part of the blood, sprinkle the blood of the lamb on their doorposts with a hyssop branch, and the angel of death, seeing the blood, would pass over the house and spare the children and animals from death. From that time on Moses commanded the Israelites to mark this event, each year, in a meal that involved a slaughtered lamb to recall that the people were spared death and freed from slavery. This was the Passover meal.
Why does John say Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation at noon? It was at noon that Jewish families took their lambs to the priests in the temple to be slaughtered. As Jesus hung on the cross, John says, thousands of lambs are being slaughtered by the priests in the temple! John wants you to see that Jesus, like the Passover Lamb, liberates us from slavery or bondage….
Notice the sign placed over his head. It read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Only John tells us that this inscription was in three languages: Hebrew (likely Aramaic), the language of the near east, Greek, the language of the Helenistic world, and Latin, the language of the west. Why does John tell us this? Because in the inscription meant to name his crime, the Roman governor has inadvertently spoken the truth – Jesus, who hangs on the cross, is not just the king of the Jews, but of all the world….
As Jesus hangs on the cross John tells us those nearby affix a sponge to a branch of hyssop, dip it in sour wine and raise it to his lips. Do you find it odd that telling a story as important as Jesus’ death, he tells us the type of plant from which the branch to which the sponge was attached came?! Hyssop was used to place the blood of the lamb on the doorposts on the first Passover. It ensured the children of Israel didn’t die as they were being freed from slavery!…
Jesus then utters his final words from the cross….The Greek is just one word: TETELESTAI. It is a shout of victory announcing that a battle has been won, a mission finished. I’ve appreciated Will Willimon’s analogy: that this is the kind of word Michelangelo might have shouted after the final brushstroke of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted. Standing on the ground, looking up at his Masterpiece, he might have shouted, “Tetelestai!” A masterpiece has been completed. God’s saving mission is finished.
This is the death of our King, who has reached the apex of his glory by laying down his life for the human race, to free us, forgive us, and heal us. Though he was perfect and sinless, he comes as priest to offer himself for us. That’s our king.
Where was Jesus crucified and buried?
The New Testament says Jesus was crucified at a spot outside Jerusalem called Golgotha, which in Aramaic means “place of the skull.” The Latin word for skull is “calvaria,” and in English, many Christians refer to the site of the crucifixion as Calvary.
The Gospel of John says there was a garden at Golgotha, and a tomb which had never been used. Since the tomb was nearby, John says, that’s where Jesus’s body was placed. The Gospel writers say the tomb was owned by a prominent rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. They describe it as hewn from rock, with a large stone that could be rolled in front of the entrance.
“When he was crucified, (Jesus) was not really a significant feature in Israel,” said Rev. Mark Morozowich, acting dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. “Certainly there was jealousy, certainly he had his followers, but there was no church that was built immediately upon his death or to mark his resurrection.”
In the 4th Century, as Emperor Constantine was consolidating the Roman Empire under his newfound Christian faith, his mother, St. Helena, traveled to Jerusalem. According to tradition, she discovered relics of the cross upon which Jesus had been crucified. The spot had been venerated by early Christians, and she concluded it was Golgotha. Constantine ordered the construction of a basilica on the spot, which became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Over the centuries, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed, rebuilt and renovated several times. There have been numerous power struggles over who should control it, and even today, sometimes violent squabbles can break out among the several Christian denominations that share jurisdiction. Still, it’s considered one of the holiest sites in Christianity, a place of pilgrimage and intense spiritual devotion. “What more of a moving place, to walk in Jerusalem, the place of the crucifixion, to meditate at Golgotha where Jesus Christ died, the place where he rose from the tomb,” Morozowich said.
But despite the history and devotion, some Christians — including many Protestants — believe Jesus could have been crucified and buried at a different place in Jerusalem known as the Hill of the Skull and the Garden Tomb.
Again this week focus on this season of Lent. During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Do this and next week share with the group how these practices affected your week.