John 18:28–40: The Trial of Jesus
It is easy to become numb to the horrors of the story of the crucifixion. We sing about the power of the cross, talk about the glory of the cross, and even decorate our churches and homes with crosses. Because the church has had two thousand years to process the horrors of the cross, it can be hard to recognize just how seriously we have domesticated the most cruel, barbaric, brutal form of execution ever invented. Furthermore, the Old Testament Scriptures are very clear that dying on the cross was not merely a rotten way to die from a human perspective, but that crucifixion signified God’s curse against the person being executed: “a hanged man [on a tree] is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:23). More than dying, Jesus was tortured; more than tortured, Jesus was cursed. How then can we recognize love, hope, and power in the cross of Jesus?
More than this, it is at this point in the Gospel that John starts to include Jesus’ teaching about his kingdom. While the theme of the kingdom of God permeates the Synoptic Gospels from very early on (cf. Matt. 4:8–10, 17; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:6–8, 43), it is only now, during the story of Jesus’ crucifixion that he begins to teach about the nature of his kingdom (John 18:33–37). Why would a condemned prisoner insist upon his right to rule as king? If he is rejected by the kingdoms of the world and cursed by God himself, how can Jesus even imagine a kingship for himself? The Gospel of John clarifies this paradox powerfully: Jesus can take the curse of the world because his kingship is not of the world.
1. What should we learn from the hypocrisy in the way that the Jewish religious leaders so scrupulously avoid entering the home of a Gentile, but nevertheless hand over the Son of God to be murdered (John 18:28)? This kind of behavior is a classic example of legalism in seeking to keep God’s law outwardly, while nevertheless justifying extraordinary abuses of the weightier matters of the law in love and justice. Are there areas where we too live by legalism?
2. Why must Jesus come under the curse of God? What does the severity of Jesus’ punishment tell us about the severity of our sin? Stop for a moment and consider that this curse is not something general, but personal—your sins deserve God’s curse and wrath. Do you recognize how much God hates your sin? Do you recognize how much God loves you to send his Son to bear that curse in your place?
3. If the kingship of Jesus is not of this world, then how should the church seek to promote, expand, and establish the kingdom of Jesus? What means and methods has God given us for establishing Christ’s kingdom? What means and methods has God not promised to bless for establishing Christ’s kingdom?
4. If the kingship of Jesus is not of this world, then what is our role and obligation to this world? How should we view our involvement in our communities? In our jobs? In our families? In our nation? Why is this work still extremely important? Why does this work fall short of affecting the other-worldly kingdom of Jesus?