Jesus in the Middle
What reassurances does the horrific crucifixion of Christ give to all believers? Johnny Prime helps us to reflect on the Easter story.
Four words found in John 19:18 declare to us that the Lord Jesus who was crucified on Good Friday is the provider of unique sympathy, unique salvation and unique security. Which words? ‘Jesus in the middle’.
“Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”
These four words describe the scene, witnessed by John and others, at Golgotha.
There were three crosses – three crucified men. But the one in the middle was the centre of attention. The one in the middle was the one upon whom all eyes were fixed. The one upon whom God would have us focus our attention.
It was no accident that Jesus was in the middle.
As we read through the events leading to the crucifixion, we may think that men were in charge of all that happened to Jesus. He seemed to be in the hands of others. But John wants us to know that this was not the case.
In 19:11, in response to Pilate’s question, “Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above.”
We may think that Jesus could have been nailed to any one of the three crosses prepared for that day’s executions. But no, the middle cross was the one for him, because he is God the Creator who very deliberately came and dwelt among, in the middle of, his creatures. “The Word become flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
A possible analogy comes from the game of cricket. In a cricket match the action goes on ‘out in the middle’. When a batsman goes in to bat, he is ‘in the middle’. The gospels reveal our Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, leaving, as it were, the pavilion of heaven, and coming into the middle, coming to live – to dwell – among men and women.
There’s a modern phrase, ‘in the thick of it’. Our Lord Jesus didn’t come as spectator or passenger or mere onlooker. He came and lived among us – in the middle of us.
Jesus walked where we walk. He knows all about human weakness, including seeming to be in the hands of others. He experienced what we experience and will experience, including the experience of death.
He experienced what it was like to be all alone without the sympathy or support of others, as he was deserted by even his friends. Which is why we can trust him for his unique sympathy.
But Jesus was in the middle to do far more than provide his unique sympathy. He came to provide his unique salvation.
One word is used to sum up the most horrific of punishments: ‘crucified’. So brutal was crucifixion that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the sanction of the emperor. It was a death designed to inflict maximum pain. A death reserved for those convicted of the worst of crimes.
The presumption is that it was for the worst of crimes that the two men either side of Jesus were being crucified. Had we lived at the time, and known nothing about Jesus, we would have presumed that he had committed the worst of crimes.
But it was for no crime of his own that he was in the middle. Three times Pilate says to the Jews, “I find no basis for a charge against Him.” (18:38; 19:4; 19:6).
A criminal is someone who has stepped over the boundaries set for behaviour; a transgressor. That is why the other two were crucified. But not Jesus. Jesus was no criminal. But he was ‘in the middle’, numbered with the transgressors, to bring salvation to all who trust in him.
The physical pain Jesus endured was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering he endured. Both point to the pains of hell which we deserve as transgressors.
To quote from the Valley of Vision prayer book,
“My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin, a river of corruption since childhood days, flowing on in every pattern of behaviour.”
But here is the stunning love of God: Jesus, who never transgressed, died in the place of transgressors.
Why was Jesus crucified on that middle cross? It was to bring salvation to sinners that he was in the middle. This provides a unique security that nothing else and no one else can give.
The phrase ‘in the middle’ is also used twice in John 20, where we read of the resurrection of Jesus.
John 20:19 describes Easter Day. The disciples were together in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Fearful of what the future would hold for them. “Jesus came and stood among them [in the middle of them] and said, ‘Peace be with you!’”. Then he showed them his hands and his side – the marks of his crucifixion – and they were overjoyed.
A week later they were in the same place. Again, the doors were locked. But this time Thomas was with them.
John 20:26 tells us that “Jesus came and stood among them [in the middle of them] and said ‘Peace be with you!’” Then, as on Easter Day, the risen Lord drew Thomas’ attention to the marks of his crucifixion.
What does the risen Jesus, who was crucified in the middle of two condemned criminals, bring? He brings unique security.
The security of forgiveness; the security of a right relationship with God; the security that removes the fear of man. He brings the security of knowing that, as we move forward in obedience to him as our risen Lord, he is with us – in the middle of us – by his Spirit.
We have the security of knowing that Jesus will keep us safe in his nail-pierced hands, from which we can never be removed.