The Shedding Of Blood
THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD
JOHN 19:1 “THEN PILATE TOOK JESUS AND HAD HIM FLOGGED”.
The Word from God affirms that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins’, and that points to something absolutely basic and fundamental in the very nature of who God is, the being of God. It is eloquent of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is one who forgives on a basis, on a foundation, because something has happened, and that is because blood has been shed.
We’ll think of the sufferings of Christ now in three stages. We’ve seen, firstly, Christ setting his face to go to Jerusalem and going to the upper room, taking the Passover there, and then going to Gethsemane and kneeling and praying, and his sweat was like drops of blood. Then secondly we see the trial of Christ, and then thirdly we will see the cross of Christ. At all three stages, then, blood is forced from the Lord Jesus Christ. At Gethsemane, before the trial, then here in the scourging, and soon they will be thrusting a crown of thorns on his head, and then they will be driving nails into his hands and his feet and a spear into his side at his crucifixion. Now none of that is a coincidence, or an accident, or the by-play of fate. We have to seek to understand what God’s plan is, in that as he comes to the trial, and during the trial and on the cross itself, he sheds his blood.
WHY DID PILATE HAVE THE LORD JESUS SCOURGED?
The first thing I’d like to look at is Pilate’s purpose in having Jesus scourged. We’ve seen that Pilate released Barabbas to them, and he released him because of the pressures and the shouting of the mob. And so Christ’s name is taken from the ballot, and Barabbas won the vote. Pilate had tried to use the device of the amnesty of the annual feast to free Jesus of Nazareth, but there was such a Jewish choking envy and hatred that there was no way that the Lord Jesus was going to be the one released at the amnesty.
So then, Pilate goes back to Plan A, and Plan A is whipping Jesus and then releasing him. But by now Pilate has sensed something of the intolerance of the mob and their hatred of Jesus, so he doesn’t make any suggestion to
them: ‘will you be satisfied if I scourge him?’. He doesn’t bother to ask, because they want Jesus dead. However, he makes one more attempt, and he orders Jesus to be scourged. Now here is a little uncertainty. Matthew reports in his gospel that after Pilate had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. In other words, Matthew sees all this as part of the death sentence. The scourging and the crucifixion followed one another. They were conjoined together – that was part of this horrible sentence, and once Pilate said ‘scourge him’, then inevitably crucifixion would follow.
Here in the 19th chapter of John’s gospel we find a little more ambivalence. Pilate does have Jesus scourged, but then in this passage you will see that there is another attempt that he makes to set Jesus free. There’s a deliberate discussion that goes on quite a way into this chapter: Pilate and the Jews are debating again, after Jesus has been scourged. So I believe that the scourging as Matthew records it is not to be regarded as simply the inevitable, legal penalty of scourging and crucifixion always taking place. The scourging, in other words, was not simply the first half of this awful penalty that was passed upon people who were to be crucified. There might still be a loophole, a way out – some leniency may yet be shown towards the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was this practice, then, of scourging a man before crucifying him; the Romans called it preparatio ad crucem, that is, ‘preparation for crucifixion’. It was a legal step. But it does seem very likely that Pilate was hoping that when they saw what had been done to Jesus of Nazareth, this excited mob with blood-lust in their nostrils would be chilled at the sight they saw: a young man goes out, the scourging takes place, he is brought back, and they would be chilled to the core to see what had been done to him. And then, he hoped, that would be enough for them, and he would be able to set Jesus free.
I think this is the only explanation for the fact that after the scourging he brings him again to the court. Here he is, a figure of abject misery. He is a figure of terrible suffering. He is brought back in by Pilate as an absolutely pathetic figure, and Pilate tries to stir up feelings by crying to the mob ‘here is the man’. And he hardly looks like a man after the scourging; he looks like a side of beef. That’s the last appeal Pi-late makes to their humanity because there is, again, absolute failure. There is no sympathy in their hearts towards him at all – the natural man is at enmity against God. Here confronted with incarnate God, the implacable hatred shows itself in the cry, again, for his crucifixion. So, then, Pilate officially pronounces the death sentence, the soldiers go away, and the next stage in the dying of the Lord Jesus, the Passion of the Lord Jesus, takes place. So, I think, this is the plan behind the scourging that was inflicted upon the Lord Jesus.
WHAT WAS THIS SCOURGING?
Secondly, let me say something now about the nature of scourging. Scourging inflicted terrible suffering on the victim. Now I know the Bible doesn’t go into details about what crucifixion was. It tells us very little about the scourging of the Lord Jesus Christ. One respects its modesty and reverence, that it doesn’t satisfy any sadomasochistic, evil tendencies in us. And so no preacher should. But you will also remember that when John wrote this gospel he did so conscious that everybody knew what crucifixion was. Everybody knew what scourging was. There were public executions in every market town. Now the Romans had made scourging, then, a punishment for numerous breaches of the law. But it was so gruesome to them that Roman citizens, except in the most extreme of circumstances, were given exemption from this punishment.
We are uncertain about the manner in which it was inflicted, but we believe it was not the Jewish manner. The Jewish manner was to lay a man down on the ground with his face in the dust, and to beat his back. We know that that was not the case with the Lord Jesus. The Roman way was that the man’s back was stripped of all its clothes and he was bound to a pillar or a post and was bent forward so that his skin was stretched and the first stroke of the whip drew blood. Sometimes the whip tore into the flesh so badly that the man became almost a human skeleton in his appearance. Sometimes pieces of lead or bone were fastened to the thongs.
We don’t know how much of this was true of the Lord Jesus. We know, for example, that Paul says he was flogged very severely. The apostle Paul had thirty-nine lashes from the Jews on no less than five occasions. We know that he was beaten with rods three times, and he could survive that and carry on his active, busy life serving God, so we must not make the scourging here to be over-horrendous.
The Scriptures speak quite soberly about it, because the Bible does not want to make us feel sympathy for Christ. It does not want us to shed a few tears for the Lord Jesus. The Bible wants us to see his greatness, and to fill us with awe. We are talking about God incarnate, the one who spread the stars through the heavens, the maker of heaven and earth. It doesn’t embellish his sufferings. It doesn’t accentuate what he went through. What it accentuates is his majesty; this is the Word who became flesh and dwelt amongst us, the Word who was with God, and was God. This is the one being tied to this pillar and being beaten so mercilessly by a man. He is willing to submit to that – that is what the Bible wants us to
see: the grandness of his compassion.
The great lesson that we must learn is that in the scourging of Christ his blood was driven out of him for the first time by man. That’s what John is telling us here. God demanded it on Calvary – showed him the cup, and his own blood was symbolically in that symbolic cup. He knew he had to die that death, and what was there in symbolic form, offered to him in Gethsemane, was there in reality, in Pilate’s grounds, in the courtyard.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SHEDDING OF THE BLOOD OF CHRIST
Thirdly, then, what is significant about the shedding of Christ’s blood? There are some people for whom the physical shedding of Christ’s blood is really all the atonement. It’s the whole of his suffering. And these people fail to see the great struggles of heart and soul of the Lord Jesus – the struggle in Gethsemane with the cup, the struggle with Caiaphas and Annas and when to be silent and when to speak, the struggle before Pilate – what to say to Pilate, and when not to say anything to Pilate. There was no blood shed there, no physical manifestations there of suffering. Men can ignore those things – always “the blood!”, always “the blood!” – the physical blood that was shed. I feel that such an emphasis greatly limits the atonement, the Passion, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have to stress that Christ’s soul suffered, Christ’s spirit suffered, his mind suffered, his relationships suffered, the full manhood of the Lord Jesus Christ suffered, the God-man suffered and died – not merely his body, not just that blood was shed.
We’re saying nineteen hundred years ago, God the Son, the second person of the Godhead came to earth, leaving none of his deity but now adding to it true humanity. That was marvelous humiliation: that he was born in the womb of Mary, that he lived in anonymity in Nazareth, that he worked in a carpenter’s shop, that when he began his public ministry, he had nowhere at all to lay his head. Men said about him that he was mad, that he was evil, that Beelzebub was working through him. Every miracle that he did took virtue out of him, weakened him so that at times he was desperately tired, and he could get into a little boat with his disciples, and sail, and hit a storm, but be fast asleep on a pillow, and not wake up while the boat was tossing and the wind was howling because he was so exhausted at the demands being made upon him.
All of this, I am saying to you, is part of his being our mediator. When he is silent three times at his trial, it is part of our redemption. This is the Passion of Christ. The physical shedding of his blood by scourging is just one part of the great atonement.
I also want to say this: it was to Israel that God sent his son. It was to a prepared people, to a nation who had been given Sinai’s law and also the whole paraphernalia of the Levitical sacrificial system. All that had to be done, then, in the book of Leviticus, all the various offerings and sacrifices that had to be made, the structure of the tabernacle, the priests, the Levites, later the structure of the temple. This people had all of that built into them.
The whole collective psyche of Israel under the old covenant was linked, was chained, to the shedding of blood. You fell into sin and you immediately thought of the shedding of blood. You retaliated against someone and hit him and felt such guilt afterwards, and you knew immediately that you had to choose a lamb without blemish from the flock and go and there would be atonement made. You stole – there was no-one around and in a rash moment you took something that belonged to someone else, and then your conscience troubled you and you knew you had to return it, and you knew that that meant sacrifice.
This went on century after century after century, fourteen hundred years after Moses and the giving of the Levitical sacrificial system. Your parents had thought like that, your grandparents had thought like that, your great-grandparents had thought like that. Your tribe, the part of the land that God had given them way back at the beginning, they had always thought like this. Everyone in your town, every boy and girl in your school, every neighbour on your street, everybody in your village. You went to the next village and they thought like this too. You went to the next town, you went up to Dan, down to Beersheba, they all thought like that. The King thought like that, the Chancellors, the generals in the army thought like that. The peasants, the people in prison – the whole nation, all that people of God – all thought without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins. There is no forgiveness for you unless a lamb, or a heifer, a goat, or a pigeon if you’re poor, dies and sheds its blood instead of you.
We know that all these lambs and offerings and sacrifices are what we call types; they are typological. They pointed forward to the great anti-type. When Jesus comes on the scene, then, John the Baptist, as his herald, announces him and says ‘Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’. No longer is it for Israel and for this people but now cosmic sin can be forgiven. People in Wales can have their sins forgiven because God’s Lamb has finally come.
Scripture says ‘the soul is in the blood’. What a strange, what a wonderful phrase, the soul is in the blood, in the blood. Of course, the soul is in the heart, the soul is in the brain, the soul is in the lungs, the soul is in the mind, the soul is in the blood. Think of it like this: God formed Adam from the dust, formed him, brought him together, and there is Adam. He’s got the brain, the lungs, the central nervous system, God has designed it all – the whole arteries, and the heart – but there’s no life. God has made him, and then God comes, and God breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. And the heart starts beating, and the brain starts functioning, the blood starts moving through the veins, and through the arteries, and the heart is pumping, pumping away, and circulation begins, oxygen from the lungs goes to the brain: Adam – a living soul.
Blood began to flow in Paradise. Outside of Paradise, in a fallen world, Adam’s blood ceased flowing. The day came when Adam died, the heart stopped beating, lungs stopped working, the brain’s electrical activity faded and vanished. The complete judgement on disobedience: ‘the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die’ came upon Adam and Eve, fell
upon him and her and upon all their descendants, without exception.
Then, the seed of the woman comes, as promised. He comes – the last Adam comes, and he comes where men die, he comes where animals are sacrificed. He comes where people are longing and hoping for Paradise to be regained. He comes, he comes as the last Adam, the true man, the proper man, God’s great definition of what a man is, the archetypal Man. He comes, Christ comes – that is, he comes with a heart and a brain, and lungs, and veins and blood: ‘bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh’, our brother, the Lord Jesus, made in every point as we are.
He comes born under the law, as we are, to be searched by the law, and tested by the law and tried by the law, and examined by the law and approved or disapproved of by God’s holy law every day, every hour, every moment of his life. Does his tongue please God? Do his eyes please God? Does his larynx please God? Do his hands please God? Does his brain please God? Does his body please God? Does his soul please God? Do his emotions please Almighty God? Always he is under the law, measured by the law, the perfect will of God. God is saying all the time as he looks, ‘without spot, without blemish, without any such thing’. The world has seen a man as holy as God is holy. As perfect as the angels in heaven are perfect. Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, higher than the heavens. This is the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the last Adam was not just a living soul but a life-giving spirit. The last Adam is perfectly righteous – as a man. As a man. As our brother, as bone of our bone. But he is discontinuous from ourselves. He’s the God-man – he is a real man, but he is God also. So the righteousness that he has worked out as a man is also an infinite righteousness, an eternal righteousness, an unchangeable, immeasurable, vast, boundless, free righteousness that he has effected by his life. When his blood is shed, it is the blood of the God-man. It is the blood of the man of whom God said ‘this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. It is the blood of the righteous one. His soul is in his blood, too. The Lamb of God must shed his blood.
But you see the great difference between the Old Testament lambs and Jesus Christ is that the lambs were dragged from the herd; they were taken from their ewes. They were taken through country lanes to Jerusalem and to the temple there. They were pulled away from the flock. The Lord Jesus came. He delighted to do the will of God. He humbled himself even unto the death of the cross. He lays down his own life. Nobody dragged him to Calvary. He bares his own back to the smiters. He gave strength to the executioner, to those hands, those muscles, those fingers that gripped the whip, that he might smite the back of the Son of God. He gave strength to the man who held the nail and the hammer and the soldier who had the spear. He veiled from their eyes the reality of who they were dealing with.
So in that sense he sheds his own blood. It’s absolutely free, it’s voluntary, it’s gracious. He gives his blood. He gives it. It’s a gift. It’s a positive action, it’s a conscious action, it’s a spiritual action. It’s his will to give his back to the smiter. He has brought his bloodstream back to where Adam’s first was. When he came, God saw his own image, his own likeness in this one that was made. As Christ’s heart beat, it beat in step with God. As Christ’s lungs moved, they moved in praise to God. As his blood coursed through his veins, it was in obedience to God – holy blood, holy veins, holy brain, the holy body of the God-man, Christ Jesus. I’m saying to you that you can’t separate the blood of Christ from the whole of this person. We are impoverished if we forget for a moment who it is who yields his life in death. Christ is the sacrifice, but Christ is also the one who is sacrificing. Christ is the temple, too. He, through the eternal spirit, offers himself to God.
So the whole struggle of the life of Christ is to be obedient. ‘Obedient, obedient, I must be obedient every day, I must be obedient – every part of me must render obedience to God’ – that’s what Christ is saying. And he must be obedient even in submission to the scourging and the shedding of his blood.
Lastly, let me just say something about Christ’s faithfulness in shedding in his blood. Remember where I began. We looked at three aspects of the life of Christ: the movement to Jerusalem, with all the pressures and the harassment, and the Passion and the cross of Christ seen in all the contradiction and weariness and the poverty of the life of Christ. Then he is bound and brought to the judge, and there it is a spiritual struggle. Then blood is shed, and finally there is the cross, and the stress of that, and the seven words that he must speak before he dies.
There are three stages. In the first, Gethsemane, he faces the possibility of crucifixion. In the last, Golgotha, he faces the reality of crucifixion. In between, the scourging. Death, like a helicopter, is hovering over Pilate’s yard. Death is intimidating, threatening him. Pilate wants to make an example of him – Pilate is still thinking, ‘Can the death of this young man be averted? Can I do anything about my wife’s warning about him
– can I free Jesus?’.
Christ’s blood shed here is on the borders. It is on the boundary between what he has been and what he yet will become on Golgotha. We read this chapter and we wonder, Is he going to get off? Will he return to life? Will he return to Nazareth? Will he take care of his mother as the bachelor oldest boy? Will he do that? Will he pick up where his dead father left off and work in a carpenter’s shop and make chairs and gates for farmers? Will he live to old age? Is that what will happen if Pilate has his will? Or is he going to go all the way to death?
I’ve shown you that in all his conduct at his trial, in his words and in his silences, he is making one choice, just one choice. He’s choosing obedience. He’s choosing to go on loving us, to faithfully serve us by dying for us. He can read the uncertainty and hopes and fears in Pilate’s eyes. He hears the message from Claudia. He knows he can soften this man and be free. He feels keenly the prospect of his pain. We know he prayed in Gethsemane, ‘can this cup be taken from me? Is there any possibility of another cup?’. Will he turn back? Will he use his powers now to persuade Pilate and answer the accusations and escape the cross?
Pilate is hesitating, but Jesus doesn’t help him. Pilate says ‘let him go’. If Jesus had been let go, the world would have gone on as it always has gone on. But Christ stays silent – Christ says yes to God. The whip screams through the air and his back is lacerated and his body quivers and his blood is shed; precious blood of the God-man, blood of the Wonderful Counsellor, blood of the Mighty God, blood of the Everlasting Father, blood of the Prince of Peace.
How great Christ is to drink the cup, to change possibilities into accomplishment. Redemption accomplished! Accomplished! Not redemption a possibility. The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world in the plan of God, but one day in history it had to become an actuality. He suffered under Pontius Pilate. The Son of Man must be delivered to the Gentiles, must be scourged, must be crucified. Pilate had no chance when he was dealing with the Living God.
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