Thursday, July 06, 2017
"Dead" Sermon: John 19:31-37
July 2, 2017, Second Reformed Church
You may be familiar with the saying, “there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.”
We are considering death this morning, because it is certain – unless Jesus returns before we die. But, for the most part, we can be sure that the bodies we are in will die someday. Our bodies age, decay, and fall apart. We get ill. We get in accidents. Unless Jesus intervenes, each of us will die – somehow – someday.
That is just the way it is. Humans die. It has been that way from the beginning and it will always be. Right?
Well, maybe not. Why do we die? Were we created to die?
After God created the first human, Adam, we read, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17, ESV).
What is God saying?
God could be telling Adam that if he eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will die – whereas, if he doesn’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will never die.
Or, God could be saying, if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, your punishment will be death.
How can we tell which is the accurate understanding?
Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12, ESV).
Paul says, before Adam’s sin, there was no sin in the world. And the penalty for sin is death. Therefore, there was no death in the world before Adam’s sin.
So, God’s warning to Adam is not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in sinning, he will bring sin and death into the world.
And, since Adam is humanity’s representative, we are all born sinners, and we sin, and we merit death. So, we die because Adam sinned and we sin.
Without sin, there is no death.
At this point in our text, Jesus is dead. Sovereignly and willingly He chose to live a perfect live under God’s Law and give up His life – die – for the sins of the people God gave Him. We talked about how this transfer occurs – Jesus’ Righteousness – His perfect keeping of the Law is transferred to our accounts – and the accounts of everyone who will ever believe – and our sin is transferred to Jesus to be fully punished in Jesus as He hangs as a curse on the cross.
And we see, the chief priests want Jesus to die quickly.
“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
John sets the scene – it is the day of preparation for the Sabbath. The Sabbath is Saturday, so the day of preparation is Friday – the day Jesus died. And the chief priests know that Law of God says, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23, ESV).
The chief priests do not want the land to be defiled, so these men – including Jesus – must die quickly, so they can be taken down from the crosses.
People who were crucified could last for days, pushing up on the nails in agony to breathe and then hanging down again.
So the chief priests went to Pilate to ask that the men’s legs be broken, so they would be unable to push up on the nails, but would rather suffocate in a short time. This was not an act of mercy on the part of the chief priests – no – they were only concerned that they might break the Sabbath Law and the law regarding hanging. They were not concerned that they put an innocent man to death.
Although the crucified were usually left to hang for as long as it took them to die, the Roman government did make exceptions for the religions in the area. So, the guards take their sledgehammers and shatter the legs of the first man, and then they shatter the legs of the second man, but when they came to Jesus, He is already dead – for a number of reasons – including the severe torture He had endured at the hands of the Romans prior to crucifixion.
Second, the soldiers make sure Jesus is dead.
“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”
It is of utmost importance to the Jews and the Romans to make sure that Jesus is totally, completely, truly dead. There are the resurrection claims yet to come, but for now, the Jews want to make sure that Jesus is not going to threaten their wealth and power, and Pilate wants to make sure Jesus doesn’t threaten his wealth and power. They have to make sure there is no possibility that Jesus had fainted – or something else – so He might be revived and come back to haunt them – so to speak.
So one of the soldiers takes his spear and thrusts it up through Jesus’ side – and there are many fanciful stories about whom this soldier was, but all we are told in the Bible is that he was one of the soldiers. And when he thrust the spear up through Jesus’ side, blood and water poured out.
What does this mean?
Again, there are a number of fanciful conjectures, but what we find in medical science is that when the heart undergoes an immense strain – such as bearing the full Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who will ever believe – after being horrifically tortured – the heart muscle may rupture. When the heart muscle ruptures, the red clotting factor and the lipid serum mix together – so, when the body is punctured – say with a spear – the mixture that comes out looks like blood and water – and it is proof that the heart muscle is destroyed (Henriksen, 437). Thus proving, Jesus is quite dead.
And then John ben Zebedee, the author of the Gospel, who stands at the foot of cross and sees these things takes a vow that what he is saying it true – he is an eyewitness – what he is saying is the truth. And the reason he is reporting this to his readers is so they will believe that Jesus really, truly died.
Why is John so passionate to have his readers know that Jesus really, physically died?
The problem is one of the earliest heresies against Christianity called, “Docetism.” The Docetists said, among other things, that Jesus did not die – Jesus did not have a physical body – what they all saw was an illusion – or some would go on to say that they crucified a look-alike, not Jesus.
As wonderful as that is for us to know, does it matter for today? Does it matter that the medical evidence based on the records and observations of eyewitnesses show that Jesus was most assuredly dead?
It actually does matter for today, because there is a religion that continues the teaching of the Docetists: Islam. Muslims teach in Surah 4, verses 157-158: “and their saying : we killed Christ Jesus, son of Mary, The messenger of Allah - but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them so; and those who disagree concerning it are full of doubts; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; For surely they killed him not; but Allah took him up unto Himself; and Allah is ever mighty, wise” [https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=A0LEV72u6ldZZkYAGfwnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByMjB0aG5zBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?qid=20090531100634AAoXScZ]
Muslims teach that Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, was never crucified. Allah took Jesus to himself, and if someone was crucified, it was an imposter, or they saw an illusion, but Jesus was never dead.
Here is the problem: if Jesus did not die on the cross, then He did not bear God’s Wrath for our sin, we have not been forgiven for our sin, and we will have to bear God’s Wrath on the last day – we are not and shall not be saved.
Yet again, John answers – third, Jesus fulfills prophecy about His death.
“For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.’”
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover meal.
God commands, “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones” (Exodus 12:46, ESV).
And so, Jesus fulfills this piece of the Passover meal by not having any of His bones broken – as He fulfills and takes the place of the Passover lamb.
As Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7, ESV).
The whole deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ deliverance of His people from slavery to Satan – and so Jesus fulfills the whole of the history, including the offering of the Passover lamb, whose bones must not be broken.
In the book of Zechariah, God speaks to Israel about her coming salvation:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.
“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 12:10-13:1, ESV).
Notice, God is speaking, and He is God Who says that the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will look at God Whom they have pierced.
Reading this in English, and in its placement in John’s Gospel, we would say, “Aha, Jesus is God, and Jesus was pierced in His ankles and wrists and side!” And there are texts that speak of Jesus’ flesh being pierced – as in crucifixion, but this is not one of them.
The problem is that the word God uses in Zechariah does not mean pieced in the sense of a nail or a spear going through the flesh – it means more literally, “heart-broken.” God is saying that the house of David and Jerusalem will look upon God Whose heart they have broken.
But before we say, “Well, John quoted the wrong prophecy then.”
Notice, isn’t this literally what happened? Jesus’ physical heart broke under the strain of all His suffering and especially under the Wrath of God that He endured for us.
So, we have Scripture, eyewitness testimony, and medical interpretation that Jesus did, indeed, die on the cross. So what?
In our Heidelberg Catechism we read:
“Q. Why did Christ have to suffer death?
“A. Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.” (Q&A 40).
And Paul writes:
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3, ESV).
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8, ESV).
And the author of Hebrews writes:
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, ESV).
The point of all of this is that Jesus really, physically, died a real human death. If He did not, we are not saved. Jesus had to suffer for all of our sin, which includes the penalty of physical death. If He did not, there is no salvation.
So, as we talk with Muslims and others who insist Jesus did not physically die, let us make it clear to them, that if Jesus did not die – if He was just a phantom, or there was some sort of mix-up, or if His death was made up, then there is no salvation.
But if He did, as the evidence and the eyewitness testimony support, then rejoice, for He had paid the debt for all of the sins of everyone who ever believes, and He is mighty to save.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Your Son and for His willingness to even die a horrific physical death to save us. Help us to understand why this was necessary and be able to tell others who claim Jesus never died. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.