John’s Two-Storey Story of Death and Glory

Finding the King

How can you recognise a king?
There’s a crown on his head.
He wears a red or purple robe.
He sits on a throne looking down to rule his people. [1]

He has power and greatness and glory.
He is a man in control.

Back in the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was in control.
Caesar was the great king.
The Jewish people were not free.
In the first part of the Bible, God promised to send a great King to rescue them.
This King was called the Messiah, or the Christ.

We’ve been reading the book of John in the Bible this year.
So let’s see what John’s book says about this King

In chapter 1, Jesus’ first followers said,

“We have found the Messiah” (1:41)

And to Jesus

“You are the Son of God – the King of Israel!” (1:49)

Jesus made sick people well, he made blind people see.
He made enough food to feed 5000 hungry men.

People saw these amazing things,
and wanted Jesus to be their King.  (6:14-15) [2]
They said to him,

“If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!”…
Jesus replied, “Now is not the right time for me.”  (7:4, 6) [3]

Jesus often says that in John: my time has not come yet.

Then one week before Easter, Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
People waved palm branches and they shouted out,

“Hail to the King of Israel!”  (12:13)
“Long live the king!”

A few verses later, Jesus said,

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man [=Jesus] to enter into his glory.” (12:23)

The time has come!
Who remembers when Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953?
A big celebration in Westminster Abbey.
Now that time has come for Jesus.
Time for the crown, the royal robe, the throne.
Time to show the world his glory.

is beamKilling the King

A few days later, something went wrong.
Jesus was arrested.
He was put on trial by the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, and then the Roman governor Pilate.
We saw this last week.

Right through the trial, the question of “king” keeps coming.
Pilate asked Jesus,

“Are you the King of the Jews?”  (18:33)

And then,

The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked [= laughed], as they slapped him across the face. (19:2-3)

is headHow can you recognise a king?
He has a crown and a purple robe.

Pilate said three times, “I find him not guilty.”
He knew Jesus had done nothing wrong.
But the Jewish leaders shouted,

“Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.” (19:12)

So Pilate handed Jesus over to die.

Let’s read John 19:17-27.

So they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
21 Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”
22 Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”
is feet23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.
25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

is john maryHow can you recognise a King?
he is lifted up on a throne to rule his people.

Jesus was in pain, but he looked after his followers.
He made sure his mother would be okay.
And then came the end.

Caiaphas got what he wanted – Jesus was dead.
Pilate showed everyone that Rome was in charge.
The soldiers got some new clothes.
is handJesus got nothing.

He was tied up through the trial.
He was nailed up on the cross.
Jesus was helpless, powerless.
Arms stretched out, he could hardly move.
He couldn’t even scratch his nose.

is beam

The Two-Storey Story

Here’s something I really like about John.
Somebody called John “a two-storey story.” [4]
Like a house with two levels, two layers of meaning.

There is the earthly meaning,
And there’s a higher heavenly one. [5]

For example, Jesus said he came to give water.  (4:10-11)
a woman said, you don’t have a bucket to carry it.
She was thinking of physical water.
Jesus meant spiritual water that gives everlasting life. [6]

So when Jesus died on the cross
There could be a deeper meaning, a higher story.

Look at these words from the trial:

“Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. (19:10-11)

Earlier in John, people wanted to get Jesus.

Then the leaders tried to arrest him; but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. (7:30)

No one could touch Jesus until he was ready. [7]
Everything happened according to God’s timetable.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, as we saw.
He knew God’s time had come.

The night before he died,
Jesus knew soldiers were coming to arrest him.
He went out to meet them and gave himself up. (18:4)
He chose the time, he chose the place,
He was in control. [8]
He even chose the time to die.

Let’s read about it now. John 19:28-37

28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.
31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. 34 One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. 35 (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)36 These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and “They will look on the one they pierced.”

We saw that Jesus was in control, everything happened in God’s time, and there is more:
is clothesWhile Jesus hung on the cross,
The soldiers decided to gamble for his robe.
There was no point in tearing it apart – you can’t sell quarter of a coat on Trade Me!
John said, “This fulfilled the Scripture” (19:24)

is sideThe soldiers came to break Jesus’ legs, but they didn’t.
One stabbed him with a spear instead.
That might seem random, but again John says
“These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures.” (19:36-37)

Do you get the feeling there’s another story here?
Something happening behind the scenes?

The Jewish and Roman leaders think they are in control.
But they don’t have a clue.
is bapt pointIt’s like a play.

Caiaphas and Pilate and the soldiers are actors on a stage.
reading out their lines that God had written hundreds of years ago.
They are like puppets on a string,
just doing what God planned. [9]

is signWho is really King?
Who is really in charge?

Look at that sign on the cross.
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

Pilate meant that as a joke – laughing at the Jewish leaders.
And a warning – don’t rebel against Rome.
But what if that sign was the truth?
In three languages, so all the world could understand.[10]
Pilate was the first Gospel writer, the first international evangelist! [11]

is beam

The Royal Mission

But how could that man on the cross be the true king? [12]
Isn’t that crazy?

Let’s look at Jesus’ last words, “it is finished.” (30)

What is finished?
The wine he was drinking?
His pain and suffering?
The hopes of his friends that he was the Messiah?
All finished,
game over, you are dead.

But look at verse 28.
“Jesus knew that his mission was now finished.” [13]
All the words of Scripture were fulfilled.
He had reached his goal.
The work that God gave him was complete. [14]

So what was that mission?  What was his purpose?  Why did Jesus come?
Let’s have another look through John.

The first time Jesus appeared, a man called John the Baptist said,

“Look!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  (1:29)

Sin is everything we do wrong, everything wrong inside us, that separates us from God.
Jesus said,

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin… If the Son sets you free, you are truly free. (8:34, 36)

Jesus talked about his sheep, his followers, and he said,

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices [=gives up] his life for the sheep. (10:10-11)

Jesus also said:

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world. (12:46)

And a few days before the cross,

The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. (12:31)

Satan is the devil, the king of darkness and evil.

Those verses give us a good idea of Jesus’ mission:
Overcoming evil and sin and darkness.
Bringing freedom and life and light.
That is the mission of a great King!

is beam

The Passover Lamb

Jesus was a man on a mission.
And he fulfilled that mission at the time he chose.[15]
What time of year was that?
The Passover.

The first Passover had been long ago in Egypt.
Two big things happened.

Number one
God defeated the evil king of Egypt.
He rescued his people from being slaves and set them free.[16]
Does that sound like Jesus’ mission?

Number two
Every family killed a lamb, a baby sheep.
It had to be perfect, with no broken bones.  (Exodus 12:5, 46)[17]
They put its blood on their door with a branch of hyssop plant (Exodus 12:22).
The blood protected them when God’s judgement fell on Egypt.

The priests were in a hurry to get rid of Jesus
so they could celebrate the Passover.
They had to check the lambs were perfect before they could be killed.

Here’s another double layer to the two-storey story.

is lambDid you notice any hyssop near the cross?
Anything about no broken bones?
Who was declared three times by Pilate
to be innocent, with nothing wrong in him?

Thousands of lambs were killed in the Temple at Passover.
Where was the real Passover Lamb, the true sacrifice to take away sin?
Hanging on the cross.
That’s where Jesus’ true glory was seen. [18]
That’s where he finished his kingly mission.

is sign headCaiaphas and Pilate carried out their plan – they got rid of Jesus.
They lifted him up in defeat.

On a higher level, they carried out God’s plan.
Jesus was lifted up in victory. [19]

On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the meaning of Passover.
He defeated the power of evil to set his people free.
He was sacrificed to save us from our sin.

So when he wrote that sign, “the King of the Jews”
Pilate wrote the truth.
is lamb feetWhen he had Jesus killed,
Caiaphas offered the perfect sacrifice.[20]

But here’s the sad thing: they didn’t know it.
All they could see was the lower story. [21]
They didn’t see that Jesus was the Lamb.
They could not recognise the King.

is beam

The Two Stories Today

is bookJohn is a great book.
Why don’t you read it through for yourself?
Look out for when someone says or does something,
And there’s a deeper or opposite meaning to what people think.
Look out for that two-storey story.
It can be fun!

And did you know,
All of history is a two-storey story.
When we watch the news, it looks like armies and politics and big business are in control.
The powers of darkness and death like Isis or Ebola.
Like Jesus’ friends when he was arrested, we may feel afraid.
We do not need to be.

Just like God used Caiaphas and Pilate to fulfil his good plans,
He’s still in control of history.
There is a higher storey to it all.

is magdIt’s the same in our own lives.
Bad things happen.
We get sick or we can’t get a job.
We lose someone we love.
We don’t understand, and we cry out, why?

Remember God’s higher story in John
God can take the worst things that happen and use them for greater good (Romans 8:28)
When we look back later on, sometimes we can see that.
Can you see God’s deeper meaning in your life?

Sometimes we can’t, or at it may take time.
So look further back, to the first Easter.
Look at Jesus on the cross.

When you stand before him there,
What do you see?
Helpless death or kingly glory?
Game over, or mission complete?
The end of a good man’s life, or the goal of God’s higher story?

Grünewald_cross smallThis painting is on the Isenheim altarpiece in Germany by Matthias Grünewald.
It’s based on John’s book.
It’s a painful picture of Jesus’ death.

You can open up the altarpiece and find a different picture inside.
Jesus bursts out of the grave, soaring up in glory.

Grunewald-risen-christThe Lamb of God who takes away sin.
The true King who conquers the darkness.
The One who gives life and sets us all free.

Many people did not recognise the King when he came. [22]
Such as Caiaphas and Pilate.
Will you be like them? [23]

When you look at the cross,
Do you see only the earthly story of suffering and death?
Or can you see the picture inside, the head in a higher story?

Can you see Jesus’ power and glory? [24]
Can you recognise the King? [25]

is beam

Questions

John is a “two-storey story”.
– What does that mean?

Who was in control on Good Friday?
– How can we tell?

What was Jesus’ mission?
– How did it fulfil the Passover?

At the cross, do you see death or glory?

In your life, can you see God’s hidden story?


[1] Many cultures believe their king is not just a normal man, but somehow closer to God. The Chinese emperor had the mandate of heaven. The Roman emperor was called Lord and son of God.

[2] In chapter 10 Jesus said, I am the good Shepherd, who leads his sheep.  The Old Testament often called the King a shepherd

[3] Jesus often said his time/hour had not yet come (2:4,7, 6:8, 30, 7:30, 8:20).  But he says the day is coming when he’ll be “lifted up” and people will know who he is (8:28, 3:14).  Then at Easter, the time had come (12:23, 27, 13:1, 16:32, 17:1).

[4] The double layer ideas of this sermon are discussed in most commentaries on John and books like Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: a Study in Literary Design by Alan Culpepper, 1983; Irony in the Fourth Gospel by Paul D.  Duke, 1985; Truth on Trial: the Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel by Andrew T Lincoln, 2000; Greater Than Caesar: Christology and Empire in the Fourth Gospel by Tom Thatcher, 2009.  As one writer said, “In the fourth Gospel, theology is irony”.

[5] John the Baptist said, “We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but Jesus has come from heaven and is greater” (3:31).  Jesus said “You are from below, I am from above.  You belong to this world; I do not.” (8:23). Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not an earthly kingdom … not of this world” (18:36).  Jesus said.  “Look beneath the surface, so you can judge correctly.”  (7:24)

[6] Other examples of double meaning are John’s questions of where Jesus is from – heaven or Nazareth (6:42); who his parents are – God or Mary; where he’s going – to the Diaspora or committing suicide, or back up to God (7:33-5, 8:21-22).

[7] Jesus said earlier, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” (10:18)

[8] Jesus stands there helplessly tied up as the Jewish priests and Pilate decide how to kill him.  But John says, “This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.”  (18:32) – Not killed by the Jews, but lifted up by the Romans on a cross.  After Palm Sunday, he said

 “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

He said this to indicate how he was going to die. (12:32-33)

[9] In Greater Than Caesar (2009) Tom Thatcher puts this well:

Those who seek to silence Jesus become mere mouthpieces for his program… never in control of Christ, but are rather puppets who play bit parts in the divine drama of his mission… The high priest is a ventriloquist’s dummy whose mouth moves with God’s hand… [Pilate] is given this power only so that he can serve as an unwitting pawn in the cosmic scheme of redemption…

An offstage voice continually subverts the dark plot of the cross script… adding another layer of meaning that changes the outcome of the story that the Romans are trying to tell…

Regardless of what they think they are doing, Jesus’ executioners are unwilling puppets who move on God’s string… The Hebrew prophets wrote the script for the crucifixion.

[10] In Malaysia or Singapore, signs are often in English, Chinese, Indian, Malay.

[11] Or was it the Samaritan woman, whose witness led her village neighbours to declare “this is the Saviour of the world” (4:42)?

[12] An old Christian hymn said Jesus “reigns from the tree.”  The huge weight of spices (about 34 kg) used on Jesus’ body points towards royal burials.  500 servants carried the spices at Herod the Great’s funeral.

[13] Most appropriately, the Greek word occurs in “God’s power is perfected in weakness.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

[14] Jesus said his mission is to do God’s will – to raise up and give eternal life to all who believe (6:38), and to finish God’s work (17:4), as on the seventh day God finished his work of creation (Genesis 2:2)

[15] In Delhi I visited the house where Gandhi died.  There was a short video of his life and all the way through was a ticking clock, counting down the time.  The video zoomed through Gandhi’s early life and then slowed for the last days, counting down the last hours until his final walk to the garden to pray when the timer reached zero, and the assassin drew his gun.  It’s like that in John.  10 chapters for around three years of Jesus’ life, then one or two chapters for the last week, and six chapters for the last day when midnight strikes, zero hour is reached, and the mission planned before the foundation of the world is fulfilled.  My theology lecturer Brian Smith noticed that, because John has 11 chapters before entering Jerusalem for the final week in chapter 12, where he says the hour has come, all Jesus’ references to his hour/time can be plotted on a clock face ticking toward midnight.

[16] That’s why Pilate was nervous about anyone claiming to be a King at Passover – at this time of all times in the year, it could start a revolution against Rome.

[17] The psalmist says, “God rescues the righteous, so none of his bones will be broken.”  (Psalm 34:20).

[18] Christ’s execution was his exaltation, his crucifixion his coronation.  “Mounted on his throne of shame and power, the crown of glory and thorns on his head” (William Temple).  For John, the crucifixion is not a mere humiliation, but a way station on Jesus’ ascension, going back to the Father, returning to the glory he had with God before the world again (1:1, 17:5).

[19] From Jesus’ side flowed blood and water and “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Just after Zechariah 12:10, which John cites, God promises a fountain to cleanse from sin (Zechariah 13:1).  Moses struck the rock and water came gushing out (Exodus 17:6).  In Jewish tradition, he struck it twice.  The first time came blood, the second water.  Jesus said living water flowing out is the Holy Spirit (7:38).

[20] In fact, he was the final prophet to speak about Jesus before his death! (11:51)

[21] All the way through John, people meet Jesus.  Some think Jesus is crazy, they reject him.  Others start to see the heavenly story and accept him.  (7:25-27, 40-3, 9:16, 10:19-21).  As Paul says, the cross looks like foolishness to those who are perishing, but the power of God to those being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).

[22] He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.  (1:10-11)

[23] We have to decide.  Pilate tried to sit on the fence and offload Jesus to the Jews, but in the end he was forced to reject and condemn him.  Nicodemus was unsure about Jesus in chapter 3, coming secretly by night, but now publicly buries Jesus body – coming into the light.

[24] “We have seen his glory” (1:14).  John said that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and cited Isaiah 6 (John 12:41), just after the prophet wrote, “I saw the Lord, seated on a throne, high and exalted” with angels calling “the whole earth is full of his glory.”  (Isaiah 6:1-3)  Because Jesus suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honour.”  (Hebrews 2:9)

[25] John’s mission in writing his gospel is to help us understand the upper story, “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.”  (20:31)

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