“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. 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. 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.” After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:31-42 ESV)
My work week has not gone as I planned. I began the week with a set of objectives and spent most of my time working to achieve those objectives. The simple truth is that I failed, miserably. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. I put in nearly 40 solid hours of work towards that goal, but I ended my week short of achieving that goal. I’m sure you’ve had similar weeks, right? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get across the proverbial finish line. Maybe it’s something physical, like an accident or illness, that causes you to fall short. Sometimes it is an emotional event, like anger or passion, that gets in your way and prevents the victory dance. Often, it is something that is really outside of your control, like mine was. Regardless of what causes it, the results are frustrating. You didn’t achieve your intended goal.
Last week we saw how Jesus’ declares that he “finished” and achieved his ultimate life purpose, God’s perfect plan of redemption. Immediately following Jesus’ declaration of personal achievement, John states his purpose in writing these words and attesting to its accuracy and truth… “his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” There it is, his purpose… “that you may ALSO believe.” John has given his eyewitness testimony to the accuracy and truthfulness of these events for the specific purpose of influencing your beliefs. But before we get into all that, notice that John states his desire is to encourage you (his reader) to ALSO believe. He’s convinced and he wants to convince you.
Now, the question at hand is what would convince a man to believe something so incredible and, quite frankly, unbelievable? How could a humble carpenter from an insignificant family in a remote Judean village be the promised savior of the world? Throughout this passage John has referenced Old Testament promises to show how Christ’s life and death are a fulfillment of those words. As John watches these events unfold before his eyes, he remembers the familiar words of instruction from Exodus 12, “you shall not break any of its bones.” A simple command regarding the Passover Lamb that has suddenly taken on new significance.
It is the day of Preparation. The Passover, a “high (or most holy) Sabbath,” was to begin in just a few short minutes. The Jewish Leaders are so consumed by their religious duty that they requested Pilate break the legs of those crucified to speed up the dying process. Let’s get this finished and this mess cleaned up before the High Sabbath begins. But God was in charge of this, not them. Without even realizing it, they were characters in a cosmic drama completing the preparations for the ultimate Passover sacrifice.
Just as Passover lambs across Jerusalem were being slain and prepared for the Passover celebration, the very Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world was being slain for us. In a grand reversal of images, God’s Lamb or Firstborn would die and satisfy the demands of sin so that we might live but, “you shall not break any of its bones.” This mess WAS being cleaned up, but not like they expected or wanted. God was cleaning up the mess of sin for all time and eternity and using the very one they had rejected.
There are certain events in our lives that are so etched in our memories that we can still see them clearly even decades later. We can still hear the sounds echo in our ears and still smell the odors as the memories overwhelm us. We can even still feel the prick of pain they caused as we are briefly transported back to those moments. John may be writing these words several decades later, but the memories are still quite fresh and the details quite vivid. As he writes and is taken back to that scene, his desire is that we too would believe. He watches as the soldiers come to break their legs, but Jesus is already dead. The Lamb has been slain, the bones were not broken. But wait, there’s more…
The soldier is thorough. He needs to be certain. He takes his spear and thrusts it upwards into Jesus’ side and water and blood gush out. The Lamb of God is most certainly dead…
“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.” (Zechariah 12:10 ESV)
Did you catch that? If not, go back and read that verse in Zechariah, again. God is speaking and says, “when they look on ME, on him whom they have pierced.” God is the one whom they have pierced! John wants us to get that, understand it, own it, and then be magnificently transformed by it. In a grand reversal of images, the Firstborn of God dying for us. His side pierced and His blood poured out. But, we’re not quite finished. There’s one last act of preparation. The blood of the lamb must be applied to our homes.
“Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:22-23 ESV)
The blood of the Lamb must be applied to our homes to be effective in protecting us from the destroyer – death. Just like in John’s story, there are some religious leaders today who neglect this part of the gospel. They only want to talk about the love of God, and they ignore all of the other attributes of God. They say, “God loves you just like you are.” Well, God DOES love you, but He loves you too much to leave you like you are. If just God’s Love were enough to save us, then Jesus’ death was a tragic injustice. Sin must be atoned or covered by the blood of a clean, pure, unblemished sacrifice. This sacrifice, the very Son of God, is sufficient for the sin of all mankind.
Jesus’ death is sufficient for our salvation but it must be applied to our lives. In the Passover preparations, the Lamb is slain, prepared and eaten by those in the home but its blood MUST be applied to the lintel and doorposts to keep death away. There was only ONE way for the death angel to passover their homes and for them to stay safe. They must apply the blood of the sacrificial lamb to their door and stay inside.
We often think our religious actions and our moral behavior is sufficient to earn us an entrance into God’s presence. Ask just about any modern religious or even non religious person how to go to heaven and they’ll answer – “by being good enough” – but that’s entirely WRONG. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of the truth. The only way to the Father is through the Son. It’s not what you do but what He’s done! Remember from last week, “it is FINISHED!” He has done everything necessary and you just need to take His blood and smear it over the door of your life and then stay inside it.
There’s one last piece to this story that I want to address, secret disciples. Our passage today ends with two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, coming and requesting permission to take Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial. Pilate gives permission, but they must act quickly because it is nearly 6:00 pm and the start of the Jewish Passover High Sabbath.
John tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because of fear of the Jews. The events of this day put Joseph and Nicodemus on the spot. They want to believe but fear the Jewish leadership if they publicly declare allegiance to Him. Perhaps their position, authority or even livelihood is at risk. The line in the sand has been drawn. No more hiding in the shadows or under the cover of darkness. It is time to choose.
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15 ESV)
The choice Joshua placed before Israel, cited above, is still very real and even timely. Joseph and Nicodemus also had to choose whether they would follow and obey the LORD God regardless of the cost or sacrifice, or if they would follow the crowd and worship a false god, namely themselves. You’re faced with the same choice. You can’t be a secret disciple or try and straddle the fence by keeping one foot firmly planted in the world while trying to walk the path of God. I’m firmly convinced that Joseph and Nicodemus made that choice to openly follow Jesus when they approached Pilate for permission to take and bury his body.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:26-28, 32-33 ESV)
So, choose… if you think you’re good enough to earn God’s favor, just keep worshiping the god of self and march right into God’s presence and declare that you don’t need what He’s provided. Let me know how that works out for you. But, if you’re willing to consider John’s testimony then let the blood of God’s Lamb be smeared over your life, completely covering your sin and spiritual nakedness. Like Joseph and Nicodemus, recognize that what you’ve done is nothing in comparison to what God has done. Come out of hiding and declare your intentions and boldly follow Him!