28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
The Death of Jesus
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
JOHN 18:28, 38-40; 19:28-34
There is a tendency to see Pilate as a kind of victim: a man with a dreaming wife who is overruled by the crowd, who tries to save Christ by negotiating first with King Herod and then by offering to release Jesus. Yet Pilate was the governor of Judea: he was in charge of Jerusalem and his word was final.
He wanted Jesus out of the way as much as anyone else did: Jesus was dangerous politically as well as annoying in religious terms. Since they held power in the land, only the Romans could carry out crucifixion. And the Jewish leaders wanted crucifixion for the wining and dining teacher and preacher whom they hated so much, but who had been hailed as king less than a week earlier. Pilate gave Christ his cross.
While on the cross, Jesus accepts a sponge, skewered on a branch of hyssop, that has been dipped in wine. The hyssop that the soldiers use is significant, for the plant was used as a kind of paintbrush to brush the doors and lintels before the original Passover (Exodus 12:22). Hyssop was probably more like what we know as marjoram, and represents lowliness (1 Kings 4:33) and cleansing (‘Purge me with hyssop’, Psalm 51:7). This emphasises the sacrifice that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has made in shedding his blood.
Hyssop also had medicinal uses, mostly associated with the prevention or reduction of infection (particularly leprosy). According to Leviticus 14:49-51, a branch of hyssop was used to cleanse the house after such infection had been eradicated.
For John, Christ is ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29, 36). A Passover crucifixion underlines the connections between Jesus and the sacrificial lamb of Exodus 12, and inevitable conclusion that Jesus’ death on the cross must be seen in the context of God’s redemption of Israel. His death is the culmination of that story.
But God not only redeems Israel but all who come to believe that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who pays the deadly price of universal sin and defeats death by rising on the third day.
Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us and grant us peace. Amen