We learn a lot about a person from the way they face death. Some are fearful and trembling at the end. Others are calm and at peace. I remember watching my grandmother in the last weeks of her life. She faced death with a determined peace and certainty. My grandfather, who survived her by about a decade, looked forward to the day he would pass into eternity. After he died, we found a scrap of paper in his house. He had been writing out the lyrics to a favorite worship song the moment of his passing. The page read, “My chains are gone I've been set free….” By being ever vigilant and constantly faith-filled, he ensured the last words he ever wrote on this earth were about Jesus. The way he faced his own death is a testimony to his character.
The way that Jesus faced death was a proof all on its own. Jesus, who was publicly pronounced innocent by the Roman governor, bravely faced His own death. Jesus had previously explained what would happen at His crucifixion when He said:
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:28)
Jesus explained that at His crucifixion these people would realize who He truly is. The way He faced death with such bravery and honor would be another proof that reveals His identity. Jesus often explained that His time to be glorified was the hour in which He would be put on the cross. (John 12:23) The way He died brought amazing glory to Him and the Father. The cross was an object lesson proving His divine attributes. Thus, His death on the cross is another proof of who He is.
We see this in action with the thieves who were crucified on the same day as Jesus. Early in the day, both the thieves were mocking Him:
The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him…. (Matthew 27:44)
Just like the Pharisees, who were standing around tossing insults His way, the robbers took part. Notice that both robbers were making fun of Him. However, before the day was out, one had a change of heart. We know this because later in the day one of the robbers said:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
Something happened in those short hours that softened the heart of one of those thieves. The way in which Jesus faced His own death showed the robber that Jesus was, in fact, the Savior. Jesus replied to the man:
Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)
The way in which Jesus, an innocent man, faced death on a Roman cross was all the proof the robber needed to believe that He could give eternal life. On that belief, and that belief alone Jesus granted resurrection and life to that criminal.
Why was Jesus able to face His own death with such poise? Chiefly, because it was what He was sent to do. His mission was to be placed on the cross. By dying in that way, people would be drawn to Him. He explained this to a gathered crowd in Jerusalem when he said:
“When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:32-33)
His death would be a rallying cry, a gathering point for the generations that would follow. We still talk about his death, we commemorate it in the Lord's Supper, and we recount it yearly on Easter weekend. Jesus' death, and indeed what follows three days later, is the chief event that divides all history.
Jesus’ death proves, more than anything else, His incredible love and determination to save the world. John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world. John 191 tells us how much God loves the world. It seems to be no coincidence that the only disciple to witness the crucifixion up close, John, was also the first to believe in the resurrection. (John 20:8) John could speak from first hand knowledge when he would later say:
And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5:8)
Jesus’ ministry began by the water, when He was baptized by John the Baptist. At that event the Spirit authenticated Him (which we’ll look at in a later section). So His ministry began with the water, and it ended with His blood. So the blood that Jesus shed speaks the truth about Him. It agrees with God’s Spirit, and the truths revealed during Jesus’ ministry. The cross and His shed blood is a proof that He is who He said He is.
In addition to being proof of Christ’s identity, something essential was happening on the cross. Not only was His death evidence of His identity, but it was a required event. It had to happen to pave the way for Him to give us life everlasting. In the first chapter of the fourth Gospel, John the Baptist foreshadowed what would happen on the cross. He pointed to Jesus and cried out:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Notice that it’s not just believers who have had their sins removed. It’s the sins of the world. Jesus died for everyone’s sin, even people who will ultimately reject him. John would later reiterate this point when he explained:
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
Jesus has removed sins from believer and unbelievers alike. He's removed all sins from Mother Teresa to Hitler. Every sin has been paid for. I don't mean potentially, theoretically, or hypothetically paid for. I mean, Jesus has paid for the sins of the Columbine shooters, the 911 hijackers, and me. The sins of the world have been paid for by what Jesus did on the cross. Those sins are forgiven and removed from consideration. It is not the presence of sin that determines a person's eternal destiny, because they have been paid for.
Jesus’ death on the cross was proof that He was who He claimed to be; it was proof that God loves the world, and it is the event that made it possible for us to have eternal life free of sin. The death on the cross is not the only evidence that Jesus can give eternal life but what happened three days after is a greater proof still.
1 John 19 is the narrative of the crucifixion.