The Signs of the Times

Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, May 6, 2018
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

 “The Signs of the Times”
John 19:17-22

For Sammie and myself it was like ‘old home week’ returning to our ancestral roots in Missouri.  Most of our time was spent in the Branson area.  This south-central region, bordering northern Arkansas, has changed dramatically over the last few decades.  There are plush resorts, retirement areas, and recreational sites for both young and old to enjoy.  Yet, amazingly much of the natural beauty has remained unspoiled.  The bluffs and rolling hillsides are still saturated with stately cedars, maples and dogwood trees.

Rural roads which once were littered with unsightly billboards have been removed.  At least in this part of the country, Lady Bird Johnson’s vision of “Beautifying America!” has been visualized.  But in this ‘Bible Belt’ region you’ll still occasionally see atop a ridge, large rocks painted white with the words: “JESUS SAVES”. 

 As you’re driving along the countryside suddenly those words jump out at you.  They stand out like a warning sign saying, ‘Sharp Curve Ahead”.  A word of caution.  On those narrow, winding roads when you see a warning sign that says, ‘Slow Down’, you’d be wise to comply.  It’s not downhome friendly advice; it’s a word of caution!

But why would someone take the time to trudge up a steep slope, and painstakingly gather large rocks, forming large letters, and then apply buckets of white paint?  It doesn’t make sense!  Even a cautious driver, traveling at a moderate speed, would only have a split second to see those imposing words… “JESUS SAVES.”  Yet, they stay with you.  You can’t shake it out of your mind.

You say to yourself, “Is this somebody’s idea of a joke?  Or, a clumsy attempt at art?”  For most passersby it’s serves only as a momentary amusement.  But for others, who dare to look introspectively, it serves as a sobering reminder.  Like a warning sign.  It’s not just friendly advice.  It’s a word of caution.  A glimpse of the truth, signifying hope!  But for all who pass by, it’s a ‘Sign of the Times’.

Casual readers of the Bible are vaguely familiar with what happened on that fateful Friday that came to be known as ‘Good Friday.  God’s beloved Son was beaten and scourged to a bloody pulp.  It was not uncommon for people to die from such an excruciating ordeal.

Jesus’ head was adorned with a crown of thorns.  Long, sharp thorns which penetrated His skull.  Before Jesus was affixed to the cross, His face was

unrecognizable.  For six agonizing hours Jesus slowly, painstakingly lifted His tortured body just long enough to catch a breath of air.  He was barely able to speak without exhaling what precious little air He could muster.  His face was pulverized.

Yet, this Man, this GOD-MAN, had committed no crime.  Jesus, the Nazarene, never entertained a sinful thought; let alone did He commit a sinful deed.

Pilate’s wife warned her husband not to involve himself with the proceedings.  Expressing his own displeasure, Pilate washed his hands of what had become a public spectacle.  In attempting to absolve himself of wrongdoing, he wrote a sign and placed it atop Jesus’ cross which read: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS”.

But did you notice what Pilate did not write.  He did not say that Jesus was “a king” as if to infer He was one of many kings.  No, instead, the sign clearly inferred that Jesus was “The King”; the only King of the Jews!

Pilate further expressed his disgust by writing these words in: Aramaic, Latin and Greek so that everyone could read and understand what the signage said, and more importantly, what it meant.  Placing a sign above the person being crucified was not uncommon.

In his Bible commentary, John MacArthur wrote (paraphrasing): “The custom for such executions was to place a placard, or tablet around the neck of the victim as he made his way to the place of execution.  The tablet was then nailed to the victim’s cross above the vertical and horizontal beams where they were joined, which was called the transom.” [1]

On that hillside, eerily shaped like a skull, it later came to be called Calvary.  But in Aramaic it was Golgotha.  Located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, many of the Jews could read from afar what the inscription said.

Pilate’s choice of words infuriated the chief priests who pleaded to have the placard removed.  The scribes and Pharisees entreated Pilate saying: Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but rather, ‘This Man said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’”  The religious intelligentsia considered Jesus as nothing more than a ‘rebel rouser’!  An illiterate preacher from Nazareth who dared claim He was the Son of the ‘Most High God’; Israel’s salvation!

Notice what they wanted the inscription to mean.  As if to say, this Man is not our King!  The One whom their Jehovah God had promised them.  How could He be?  He is not like us!  As for the miracles Jesus performed, they claimed He was the devil incarnate!

To put an end to this Man’s treachery, they claimed He was a seditiousness.  Therefore, it seemed only fitting to have Jesus put to death alongside common criminals and petty thieves.  The high priest, Caiaphas, being a pragmatist, put it bluntly: “…it is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation should not perish” [John 11:49, 50].  Little did he realize that his callous words were prophetic.

Like all other Messianic prophecies, this Man, this God-Man, fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah said of Him: “…because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” [Isaiah 53:12].

All four gospels mention this inscription.  Yet, scant attention has been given to it.  But on that Good Friday, it meant a great deal.  Any self-respecting Jew would have been appalled at what Pilate had written.  It was as if they were being held culpable for having put to death their Messiah!  Muttering amongst themselves, they voiced their objection: “How dare anyone accuse us of crucifying God’s beloved Son.  We alone are the purveyors of truth!”

But were they?  Did anyone fully grasp what was done on Calvary’s hill?  At least Pilate was honest enough to ask, “What is truth?”  But was he really interested in seeking the truth?  If you read John 18:38 carefully, it says: “Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’”   

Pilate wasn’t asking a question.  He was stating his opinion!  He had no interest in learning the truth.  Little did he realize that the Truth was standing before him!   And, quite frankly, neither do many of us.  In today’s world, we neither seek, nor ask what is ‘truth’!  Some even advance the notion that ‘Truth is relative.’

On that fateful day, few understood that the ‘Truth’ was left hanging by a thin thread atop a hill.  But in fairness to Pilate, he was not about to yield to the whims of these Jewish hypocrites.  After all, tor they were the ones who had forced his hand by releasing Barabbas during the Passover celebration.  So, he said to them, “What I have written I have written.”

But there was something else about those words inscribed above Jesus’ cross which read: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS”.  Words that are as applicable today, as they were then.  I would argue that those words carry the same meaning as those painted rocks atop another hillside at another time and place.  The words that say: “JESUS SAVES!”

Regrettably, the word “GOD” has become almost a generic term.  The word ‘god’ (in lower case) is everything, and yet seemingly nothing at all.  You ‘define’ God however way you choose.  There are some who believe there are many ways of finding God.  If, in fact, there is a god!

Ah, but you see, if someone uses the name of ‘Jesus’ then all hell breaks loose!  But, for those who do believe in Him, then heaven’s gates are opened wide!  Jesus’ name evokes a myriad of emotions: Love, hate, kindness, cruelty, peace and war. Yet, no one can for very long sit astride a fence when Jesus’ name is uttered.  His name reverberates in our minds and hearts.

But the Truth that died on that cross that day, still lives!  Truth has not died!  Truth has been resurrected!  Whether we choose to see the ‘handwriting on the wall’ (Daniel 5:24-30], or those two words on painted rocks; you simply can’t walk away.

That’s because Jesus saves.  Jesus saves.  He came not just for the Jew, but people of every tribe and nation.  God is no respecter of one’s ethnicity.  For just as it says, “There is no partiality with God” [Deuteronomy 10:17; Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34].

Jesus affords you life. Because He is life!  Jesus makes you whole.  Because He is your all in all!  Once you gaze upon that sign.  Like that of a roadside sign.  Once you choose to yield your life to Christ, He comes alongside you for what becomes the ride of your life!

It reminds me of the words to the hymn: “Shout salvation full and free, Highest hills and deepest caves; This our song of victory: Jesus saves!  Jesus saves!”

Let us pray…

[1]     Dr. John MacArthur,  The MacArthur Study Bible  Nashville: Word Bibles,  1997)  pgs. 1449, 1500, 1564, *1624

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