Watching someone you love die is always a heart-wrenching experience, especially when the victim experiences great suffering. For the apostle John, the death of Jesus was likewise difficult-but he saw a glimmer of hope, a silver lining in the dark clouds of death. This death was long ago anticipated and was being carefully monitored from the control center of heaven. Today we see why that's important.
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" John 20:31.
Believe:879 is an epic journey through the book of John led by Pastor Skip Heitzig of Calvary of Albuquerque. As we explore each of the 879 verses of this gospel, we'll grow in grace and in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. From His pre-incarnate existence, to His public ministry, through His death and His resurrection we'll traverse familiar territory and embark on new adventures of faith.
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Publications referenced: The Passover Plot, by Hugh Schonfield; On the Physical Death of Jesus, by Dr. William Edwards , Journal of the American Medical Association March 21, 1986, Vol 255, No. 11
Figures referenced: Josephus
Cross references: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Psalm 22:17; Psalm 34:20; Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Mark 15:44;
Would you pray with me? Father, we do thank you that your love was such that you spared nothing and you gave your Son. In fact, the prophet said it pleased the Lord to bruise Him and to make him an offering for sin. We admit it's unfathomed of all for us. We don't get our minds around that but we just humbly thank you, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Several years ago, a man by the name of Hugh Schonfield wrote a book called The Passover Plot. As a non-believer, Schonfield was convinced that Jesus plotted, planned his own death. And knowing that the Jews would not keep the bodies of crucified victims on the cross for the Sabbath, Jesus had prearranged a pseudo death.
According to Schonfield, Jesus got one of his supporters to get a drink given to him during the crucifixion laced with a drug that would render him unconscious but not dead. So that he would appear to be dead, he would then be taken off the cross, placed in the tomb of another supporter, Joseph of Arimathea who would then nurse him back to health and appear to be a resurrected savior in the subsequent days.
But according to Schonfield, the plot went awry when one of the soldiers who was there at the cross placed the spear and jabbed it into the side of Jesus effectively killing him and destroying the plot.
So for the resurrection, the disciples had to use a stand-in, a person who is roughly the same built as Jesus to be there at the tomb, standing outside, posing as the gardener, showing up on the road to Emmaus talking to two disciples, showing up at the Sea of Galilee and that is one of the reason says Schonfield that the disciples did not recognize Jesus after the resurrection.
I certainly do not agree with Schonfield's story but I admit that I have to agree with his premise. The death of Jesus Christ was a plot. Not an earthly plot hatched by some wannabe messiah who configured certain events in advance so it would look to be a certain way, but rather a divine plan that came from the heart of God that was predicted by all of the prophets well in advance. It's part of God's eternal plot if you will or a plan.
One of the most upsetting things about death is its suddenness. It happens without warning. It comes unexpectedly. And when that happens, people are shocked. If you have ever received the sudden news of the death of a loved one like I did when my brother died, it just sends you into a spin. All of those plans unfinished, all of those words unspoken, all of those dreams unfulfilled shattered in a moment.
That was not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. He predicted his own death in advance. He told his disciples how it would happen, what would happen afterwards, all of the details. In fact when Jesus died, the scripture says, he bowed his head and he dismissed his spirit. He said, "Okay, you can go now. Now it's time for me to leave." His was death under control.
I had the privilege of being at the bedside of my mother when she died. I held her hand and I was able to tell her God loves her and read the Psalm to her. It was a privilege because it dawned on me this very woman who was there when I came into the world, I'm watching her exit this world. That is such a holy moment.
I imagine that the apostle John felt some of that as he was there at the cross. It was horrible to watch and it is something nobody could stand or stomach. And it's difficult as it was for John to see and hear what he was experiencing at the same time the holy and high privilege of being there when his friend, his master, his lord though he didn't make sense of it at that moment, was being killed.
John would later on write about it and we have his writings here. And as we read the writings of John, we understand that John was impressed by certain details that happened during that event. Details he did not understand at the time but later on it's as if he could connect all of the dots and he had this epiphany that he writes about.
So let me take you back 2000 years to the scene. Travel with me 7,200 miles from Albuquerque to Jerusalem. Place yourself underneath olive trees. See behind you the ancient stones of the city wall and the buildings. Listen to the hubbub of the Passover traffic. Smell the Passover lambs, the roasting waft in the air. And then you feel the eerie silence as you discover that of those three figures on the cross before you, only two are still alive. The central figure has already died.
And then you feel the nausea rise in your stomach as two soldiers circumnavigate the cross with iron mallets ready to perform their lugubrious task of smashing the legs of the victims so that they would die quickly. John was there. John writes about it.
Or perhaps the candles that we've arranged will help you be carried back at least a little bit. Maybe the candles could represent the dwelling places of the Jews in that city who would light the lamps for the Passover or for the Sabbath that they were about to bring in.
We'll let the Menorah appear. The seven branch candlestick represent for us Judaism, the very system and nation that Jesus came into. As the scripture says, "He came unto his own things but His own ones would not welcome Him."
We'll then let the 11 other candles that are interspersed up here represent for us the 11 loyal disciples, those who remained true to Jesus but were at this moment very shocked and bewildered as to how this could happen.
They are in fear of the Jews. They are behind locked doors. And now let the passage that I read to you fall on fresh ears as if you've heard it for the first time. "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should 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. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was 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 immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, 'Not one of His bones shall be broken.' And again, another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they pierced.'" Allow me to take you through three lines of thought with that passage. First, the predicament of the scene. Second, the placement of the spear. And third, the fulfillment of the scripture.
We begin with the predicament. I call it a predicament because there are some things that we haven't wrestled with yet as to timing that are sometimes brought up often by skeptics and I want to reconcile those.
Here's the rundown. We know that Jesus died very quickly for a crucified victim, six hours. After six hours, he was gone. He was placed on the cross at nine in the morning he died at three in the afternoon. Most crucified victims lasted two to three days on the cross.
But our passage says it was preparation day. You'll notice, "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day that the bodies should 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."
Now the preparation day was the day that the Jews prepared for the next day which was the Sabbath day. Because that was a Friday and the next day would be Saturday the Sabbath, because that Sabbath was during Passover week, it was called a high day. It was the high and holy Sabbath of the year because it was during the Passover week.
Now here's the problem we have. If it's a Friday and we believe it is because the scripture would indicate that it is, the problem is the timing of the Passover itself and when it was eaten. Let me explain that to you.
A chapter back, at the beginning of the trial of Jesus in Chapter 18 Verse 28 it says, "Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning but they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled but that they might eat the Passover." You say, "I don't understand the problem."
Well, if it's Friday morning and they are anticipating the eating of the Passover, we have a problem because Jesus and his disciples have already eaten the Passover the night before. So if they as Jews ate the Passover the night before which was Thursday, and then we read here that they're waiting that they might eat the Passover the Jews in Jerusalem, how do we reconcile that fact?
Well, that's where the writings of the historian Josephus help us as well as the writings of the mission of the codified oral law of the Jews. In both of those sources, we are told that the Jews in the north including the Galileans had a different calendar than those down south in Judea, around Jerusalem.
Those in the north reckoned the days of the week from sunrise to sunrise whereas down south, they recognize the days from sunset to sunset which is the typical traditional Jewish way of reckoning days from sunset to sunset. That's because in Genesis it says, "An evening and morning were the first day."
If those two sources are accurate, then it solves the problem. It would mean if you're from Galilee like Jesus was and his disciples, that for them Passover, the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan began Thursday morning at sunrise and ended Friday morning at sunrise. Whereas if you're from Jerusalem, Judea, the Holy City. Passover began Thursday evening and lasted until Friday evening. So, you would have the Galileans eating the Passover Thursday evening whereas the Judeans would be eating at Friday evening because of the reckoning of their time.
It would also solve a logistical problem how on earth are they going to kill that many lambs and give them to people to have a meal that evening when there were millions of people that they were servicing sometimes for the Passover. Well, it would help if you could do it in shifts so let's let the Galileans kind of keep their schedule.
And those from the north, we can service on Thursday and those from the south on Friday so you could do the Passover in shifts killing lambs and having a meal on Thursday and another one on Friday which would mean that when Jesus hung on the cross and was dying, at that very moment they were killing lambs in the temple for those in Jerusalem. While lambs were being slaughtered, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was being slaughtered on the cross.
There's also another predicament that we have and this is a pretty typical one. I get this question asked a lot, I bet you do too. If Jesus died on Friday and he rose on Sunday, how do you get three days? It sounds to me like a couple of days at the max. And that is because here on the west for some reason, we have to have three 24-hour periods to make a day. That's how we think. We have to have the total of that or it's just not going to work.
But again in ancient Judaism, they did not think that way. They would count a part of a day as a day so that because there is Friday involved and Saturday involved and early Sunday morning, it's three days. It spans the allotment of a three-day period.
I know that because I'm quoting to you a passage written by Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, an ancient rabbinical source and he says, "A day and a night make an 'onah." An 'onah was a cycle of a day and a night. "A day and a night make an 'onah. And part of an 'onah is as the whole." That's how they saw it. So if he dies on Friday, he's in the tomb on Saturday. He rises early Sunday in their minds it has three days. That's what Jesus predicted and that problem is solved.
But the predicament for the Jews at that moment is it is preparation day. It's the Sabbath that is coming. "We want to go home and celebrate the Passover with our families and light the candles to welcome in the Shabbat." and there's bodies hanging on the cross. "We'd like those bodies removed so we can go home and have a nice meal."
Now typically, the Romans left the victims of crucifixion on the cross to rot frankly, for days. The sun would rot their corpses. The birds, the scavenger birds would pick away their flesh. And if there were dogs that can reach that far up, the Romans would let it happen. But the Jews don't want it to happen. They want the bodies removed. And here's why.
They want the bodies removed because of a passage in the Law of Moses. This is Deuteronomy Chapter 21. "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you will surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God." That's the reason. "Get those bodies off the crosses so our land isn't defiled so we can go home and have Passover and welcome in the Sabbath."
Talk about the pinnacle of hypocrisy. They're so concerned about the minute details of the law while they're killing the one who fulfilled their law. That's what religion will do. That's what legalistic religion does. It focuses on the outward precepts that a person keeps so that person can go home and feel smug about the outward precepts that he has kept and not about the heart of the law. So that is the predicament of the same.
Now let's look at the placement of the spear in Verse 33, "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 immediately blood and water came out."
The Roman soldiers, though typically they would leave their bodies up on the crosses, there was from time to time a procedure known as the crurifragium, which was the breaking of the legs. It was done not for torture but for mercy. I know that sounds wacky to some because you're thinking, "Breaking the legs of a crucified victim, I mean that is like adding insult to injury. That is horrible." But let me explain.
When a person is crucified as we mentioned before in that erect position, his ribcage is affixed. There is really no movement of that ribcage. The only thing that can bring in air is a single muscle of the diaphragm. But over a period of time, the diaphragm is fatigued and becomes paralyzed. There's a paralysis that sets in.
So knowing that, the Romans would take the feet and pin the feet to the cross not letting the victim just hang by that wrist but also by the feet to provide a fulcrum so they could push up on it and bring in air. So as long as that person was pinned to the cross in that position as excruciatingly painful as it sounds, he could surge and slump, surge and plunge, up and down, up and down, surge and plunge for two to three days. Horrible, horrible, long death.
When the legs were broken and they were smashed in several places, shattered really, it removed the leverage that the nail of the feet was providing so that it was just a matter of time they would die very quickly of asphyxiation, respiratory failure.
The soldiers got the one on the outside, the criminal on the other side but they noticed that Jesus was already dead. Now these were Roman soldiers.
They've done this before. They are experts at this. They know when a person is dead. But to make sure that this criminal in the middle is dead, one just took a spear and trusted in Jesus' side and out came blood and water. Now, all of these details are important. Why? Because the author wants you to know that when Jesus went into the tomb, he went in as a dead man. He was dead. There was no life in him physically because if you don't believe that, then you don't have a resurrection. You only have resuscitation. For there to be a resurrection, there has to be the end of life, and so Matthew makes that clear when He writes, "He yielded up His spirit". Mark and Luke say, "He breathed His last." John records, Jesus saying, "It is finished," and bowing his head and he gave up his spirit. And now, a soldier notices he's dead. So Jesus died.
I'm underlining that because there is a theory that Jesus never really died, he just swooned on the cross. He fainted essentially. He lost blood, he'd lost a lot of energy, he was totally exhausted and so he just kind of slumped over and he was swooning nearly dead but still there was life in him so they took him off the cross. And here's the funniest part of the theory, the damp cold tomb revived Him. How lame is that? That's like saying, "Yeah, I drove down the street, accidentally hit a guy, left him by the side of the road so he'd get better." It's not going to happen; it's not going to happen. It's not going to happen for several reasons.
Reason number one, when Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sweating great drops of blood. We told you that as a medical condition, known as hematidrosis. The rare it does happen, it is recorded. Number two, Jesus face not one trial but six trials, three religious and three civil. At those trials, he was beaten and pummeled. Number three, he went through scourging. We believe not one but two Roman scourgings, the flagellum across the back, lacerating the skin and the muscles on the back. Number four, a crown of thorns placed on his brow which would also increase the bloodletting. Number five, Jesus carried at least part of His cross, the patibulum weighing about 75 pounds out of the city. They didn't even make it to the place of crucifixion. He was so exhausted.
And then the crucifixion itself for six hours in that position with spikes through his hands, his wrists and his feet. And then Jesus was placed in the tomb. But before that, the soldier thrust in his spear and out came blood and water which is post-mortem evidence that this man died of heart failure, the constriction of the heart by the pericardium, the fluid around the heart as well as shock and here's the proof, He is dead. Now, these are details that John notices and he writes about them and we're left with the question and we want to answer it before we take the Lord's Supper. Why? Why is that? And we have the fulfillment of scripture.
At Verse 35, "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe." For these things were done that the scripture should be fulfilled. Now, one of his bones should be broken. And again, another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they pierced." So here's John writing saying, "I get it now. I'm connecting all the dots. What I saw, what I heard, what I experienced, this wasn't just coincidence. This was providence." If God had written about these things in advance by the prophets and they're being fulfilled right before my eyes. The first prediction is that not a bone of His would be broken, according to Psalm 34, Psalm 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 9, the Passover lambs, none of their bones to be inappropriate sacrifice could be broken.
The second scripture is the piercing of the side with a spear as horrible as that was. Zechariah predicted in Chapter 12, "They will look upon me," God said. "They will look upon me whom they have pierced." If Jesus wouldn't have died at the exact moment, He died. His legs would have been broken.
If his legs were broken, then his side would not have been pierced with that spear. And if his legs were broken and his side wasn't pierced with that spear, you can take your Bible and throw it away. You could throw it away. It is not true but it is true because everything God predicted in advance with intricate detail because of his four knowledge that came to path. John says, "I'm writing this because I now get it and I want you to get it, I want you to believe." That's the theme of the book as we have discovered. Believe:879, 879 verses in the Gospel of John, you know a lot of them now after two years and three months. But the theme, the major theme has been believe, believe, 98 times he uses that word.
Here's the epiphany of John, let it be yours this morning. John is realizing, "I am dealing with a God who knows all of the intricate details of history, time and even the details of the death of his Son and has written them into the fabric of scripture so that I can look at it and I can say, "I'll trust this God, this God who knows so much and predicts it in advance, why I'd be a fool not to entrust my life to him." So that's the question I asked you this morning. Are you afraid to trust your life to the one who can manage all of the intricate details like this? And the follow up question is, will you entrust your life to one who is willing to manage the details of your life?
As you take communion, you are saying, "I trust Him. I trust His promises, I trust His word and I will entrust my life to Him." Years ago, when the Canadian Pacific Railroad wanted to build a railroad line from Medicine Hat to Calgary in Alberta, Canada, they knew they had to go through Indian land. The Blackfoot tribe managed the lands so they went to Crowfoot who was the chief of the Blackfoot tribe and they got permission. He gave them the permission. In exchange for the permission to build the railroad, the Canadian Pacific guys gave to Chief Crowfoot a lifetime railroad path. At anytime, the chief could get on board from one destination to another all day long, everyday if you want it to for a lifetime.
The chief was so thankful. He took the path. It is said to put it in the little leather pouch with a leather strap around it and wore it around his neck proudly his entire life and never used it once. And I read that and I said, "Boy, does that sound like lots of us Christians? We have all of God's promises in our nice little leather pouch. Here it is. Here's my leather bible. All these neat promises, "Boy, what a cool bible I have. Man, it's so supple and soft, it reads easy and it smells so good when it's new. I like that." But that's where they stay. The real sacred of the Christian life is when we take the promises out of the pouch and we walk in them. We take them to the bank and we trust them and entrust our future to him.
As I pray, may I ask the Communion Board to come forward and we'll pass these elements out. Our Father in heaven, we want to be those who dare to not let the promises of God simply stay as black and white ink on a white page in a leather pouch but to become living words. In that like John, we can have our own epiphany and say, "I have seen it. I see how the plant comes together and I've tried these promises, and they worked. And they are now a part of my life." In taking these elements, we're saying we have received the promises of God for ourselves. In fact, we have received the promise maker ourselves. As we pass these elements out to you, if you're not a believer this morning, we ask you to let the elements pass by you. Don't take them. The Bible says, "That's not a good thing for a nonbeliever to do to take the elements because all you're doing is advertising your own damnation." It would be to make a mockery of it.So to avoid that, just simply courteously let them pass by. But we'd always like to give plan B to that. That's presupposing that your heart is remaining hard to God. The best plan to do is with a soft heart, a tender heart, an honest and contrite heart give the Lord your life right now. Say to Him right now in these intervening moments, I receive you as my savior and as my Lord. I believe that you died on the cross for me and I entrust my life to you in a personal way. And then you take these elements for the first time by faith that you're a new creation by God. You do that as we pass these elements out to you if you haven't done it.