THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST
Topic: Sunday Morning Messages Passage: John 19:16b–19:42
“THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST”
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
So writes the Apostle Paul in laying out the core content of the Gospel message. At its very foundation are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a message that must be believed and adhered to if one hopes to inherit eternal life. And, as Paul makes clear, it is a message founded upon historical reality and biblical prophecy. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
On the day that Jesus died, many Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in remarkable detail. The events surrounding His passion were not “random events” or “chance occurrences.” They had been foretold centuries before and recorded by the God’s prophets so that His people might know how to identify their Messiah when He came.
The Apostles’ Creed, one of the earliest Christian “statements of faith” dating back the 4th-century, declares that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” That single statement summarizes the content of John 19. In last week’s message we observed how our Lord suffered under Pilate. Today we will be looking at His crucifixion, death, and burial, all of which were in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Let us keep in mind that the death of Jesus Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. The Bible tells us that even before man’s fall—even “before the foundation of the world” (cf. Ephesians 1:4)—God ordained that He would choose for Himself a people who would worship Him forever.
The 19th chapter of John is not a pleasant passage of Scripture to read, but read it we must. In fact, we should read it often enough so that we perpetually bear in mind the ransom price that was paid in order to redeem us from God’s wrath and sin’s wages. Therefore, I urge you to follow along in your Bible as we return to John 19 today and consider our Lord’s crucifixion, death, and burial.
We break into the middle of verse 16 where, after being brutally scourged and mocked (cf. Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15), Jesus is led away to be crucified. Verses 16 through 27 give us John’s account of...
The crucifixion of Jesus (19:16b-27).
16 ...So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let is not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
The Roman execution squad would have consisted of four soldiers. We are told that Jesus is forced to “bear...his own cross” to the place where He will be “lifted up from the earth” (cf. John 12:32) in fulfillment of words that He openly spoken earlier. We can only wonder what His disciples must have thought when they saw Him “bearing his own cross” in recalling that He had once told them that, if they would be His disciples, they too must bear their crosses (cf. Luke 9:23).
The Synoptic writers inform us that along the way a passerby identified as Simon of Cyrene (cf. Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) was compelled to help carry the cross to the execution site. There is a Muslim belief that Simon actually took the place of Jesus and was the one who died on the cross that day. But John does not allow that. Verse 18 says, “There they crucified” Jesus along with two others called “robbers” (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27) or “criminals” (Luke 23:32).
Death by crucifixion was brutal and inhumane. I will spare you the most gruesome details, but I would like to quote a footnote from Leon Morris’ commentary where he refers to the process:
The victim was fastened to the cross either with cords or nails. The cross beam was fixed so that the victim’s feet were off the ground, but not necessarily very high off the ground. There was a...projection which the crucified man straddled. This took some of the weight of the body and prevented the flesh from tearing from the nails. It was a frightful death.
Morris then goes on to cite an earlier writer, who adds that crucifixion involved...
...atrocious physical sufferings, length of torment...the effect on the crowd gathered to witness the long agony of the crucified. Nothing could be more horrible than the sight of this living body, breathing, seeing, hearing, still able to feel, and yet reduced to the state of a corpse by forced immobility and absolute helplessness. We cannot even say that the crucified person writhed in agony, for it was impossible for him to move. Stripped of his clothing, unable even to brush away the flies which fell upon his wounded flesh, already lacerated by the preliminary scourging, exposed to the insults and curses of people...the cross represented miserable humanity reduced to the last degree of impotence, suffering, and degradation.
If descriptions such as these disgust you and even repulse you, then consider how repugnant must God be toward our sin by allowing His Son to endure such harsh and bitter treatment on our behalf. Jesus willingly received the wrath that you and I deserved. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned –every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Try as you may, we each share the responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ.
A placard stating the convicted person’s name and the crime for which he was guilty was commonly affixed to the cross upon which he hung. It served as a warning to anyone who may have entertained a similar violation of the law. The charge against Christ was simply, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate made sure that it was written in three languages—Aramaic (a form of Hebrew and the native language of the Jews), Latin (the official language of Rome), and Greek (the common language of the day)—so that everyone would understand. When the Jews protested the wording on the placard, Pilate remained adamant and refused to change it to suit them.
As Jesus poured out His life unto death, the soldiers who had put Him on the cross divided his garments among themselves, and “cast lots” for His last possession. Without their slightest awareness, as John points out, this was done in fulfillment of Scripture.
The reference in verse 24 comes from Psalm 22, which is the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament. It has been called “the Psalm of the Suffering Savior” because it contains many images that preview Jesus’ death on the cross. The psalm begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is in verse 18 of this psalm where we read, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” By citing this one passage, John makes the point that the other Gospel writers also affirm: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was in direct fulfillment of Scripture.
As if by contrast, verses 26 and 27 remind us that Jesus was not alone that day. Although helpless to defend Him, there were those who refused to leave His side. At the foot of the cross stood at least four women and the one disciple who proved to be His most loyal. As we have seen repeatedly, this disciple was most likely John himself, who never identifies himself by name. In an act of tender compassion, we find Jesus entrusting the care of His mother Mary to John.
As you know, there are seven statements that fall from Jesus lips as He hung dying on the cross. John records three of them. In order of sequence, the one found here is the third of those.
There is clearly more going on in this interchange than what initially meets the eye. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus has been the son of Mary, but the time had come for the altering of their relationship. No longer would He be her son—at least as He had been. From now on He would be her Savior. From her earliest days of carrying and raising the Son of God (cf. Luke 1:26-35), Mary anticipated the time when she must yield her rights as His mother to the eternal plan of the Heavenly Father. The separation would be painful, but pain would soon give way to joy.
As we move into verses 28 through 37, we bear witness to...
The death of Jesus (19:28-37).
What a tragic and yet triumphant scene this is. John writes in verses 28 through 30,
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus hung upon the cross some six hours (roughly from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) before breathing His last. Obviously an interval of time has elapsed between verses 27 and 28. Sensing the end of His earthly life was near, He is now dehydrated from excessive perspiration and the loss of blood. The mid afternoon sun is beating down upon His naked and exposed body. His parched lips whisper, “I thirst.” It is the fifth of His final words, and the second recorded by John.
Verse 29 tells us that “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” “Cheap” or “sour wine” was a common means of quenching thirst in a land where water was not readily accessible. We are not told who “they” were...possibly John and one of the women. Possibly, but not likely, some of the soldiers.
John points out that this also was done in fulfillment of Scripture. It is from Psalm 69:21 that we find these words related to the prophesied Messiah: “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Merrill Tenney has noted the irony that “He who offered to all men the water of life Himself dies thirsty.”
Very soon thereafter, verse 30 informs us that “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” You will note that the word “finished” is used in both verses 28 and 30. As some of you are aware, it is the word “τετελεσται,” which means “to fulfill” or “to bring to completion.” What’s more, the tense of the Greek verb suggests past action with the results actively remaining. It might, therefore, be understood to mean the work of Jesus in dying for sin “ is finished” and stands forever “finished.”
Jesus did not say, “I am finished.” He said “It is finished,” meaning that the debt of sin had been “fully paid” as the result of His pouring out His blood and yielding His life. It was a term that was often used in financial transactions whenever a debt was “canceled” or “paid in full.” Colossians 2:14 makes the point, when it says “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands...he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
I don’t believe that we can linger too long over this word. Charles Spurgeon has well stated,
“It is finished.” There is only one Greek word for the utterance of our Lord, although to translate it into English, we have to use three words—an ocean of meaning in a drop of language. Yet it would need all the other words ever spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high—I cannot attain to it. It is deep—I cannot fathom it.
Following this sixth saying from the cross, John records that Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” An equally valid translation would be, “He laid his head to rest and dismissed His spirit.” This was not a passive act on His part, for Luke 23:46 tells us that Jesus’ final words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” In the same manner in which He had voluntarily come into this world and had willingly lived His life in full obedience to the Father, so He would voluntarily leave it. At that moment Jesus Christ breathed His last. He was dead.
Correspondingly, the other Gospel writers tell us that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (cf. Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45), creating access into the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence was said to dwell. Heretofore it was a place where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and then only once every year. But now, “by the blood of his cross” (cf. Colossians 1:20), Jesus had made a way for all who are willing to enter in.
But let’s return to the scene of the cross. We pick up the reading at verse 31:
31 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. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 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. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
By now it was late afternoon and soon the sun would soon be setting. Sabbath days began at sundown, and this particular Sabbath marked the end of the Passover week. Deuteronomy 21:22 and 23 forbade an executed corpse from remaining “all night on the tree.” So the Jews requested that Pilate have his soldiers break the legs of those who had been crucified that day. Such an act would prevent them from pushing upward with their legs in order to relieve the pain and pressure. The result would be asphyxiation and the hastening of death. Dutifully, the soldiers carried out their orders, probably using a heavy mall to break their knees. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
Verse 34 adds, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” There have been many attempts to interpret the meaning and significance of these words. They range from theologians seeing them as spiritually symbolic of the two ordinances of the Church—that is, the Lord’s Supper and baptism—to physicians elaborately explaining what happens when the heart ruptures under extreme and prolonged physical and emotional stress. Not being a medical expert, I asked my doctor—who happen to also be an elder in his church and a faithful student of the Scriptures—to give me his perspective. This was his take:
Due to the lashings and amount of blood-loss, Jesus’ body was likely in a state of extreme stress and shock. The blood loss, as well as body fluid loss through His wounds would have caused a shifting of fluids internally, which would then cause fluid (water) to shift from the blood vessels into the lung space due to osmosis. Also damaged cells could also leak fluid to the lungs. It is a condition known as pulmonary edema.
In an attempt to put it into words that are both medically and theologically significant, we might simply say, “Jesus Christ died of a broken heart.”
Not only does John report that he saw this with his own eyes, but again he tells us that what occurred happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures. The quote from verse 36 comes from Psalm 34:20. The point of reference, however, extends all of the way back to the origin of the Passover as the Jewish people were being miraculously delivered from Egyptian bondage. In giving instructions regarding how they were to eat the Passover lamb, the Lord had said in Exodus 12:46, “You shall not break any of its bones.”
Jesus’ ministry, you recall, was announced by John the Baptist, who pointed Him out as, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Now at the end of His ministry—indeed, the end of His life—we find Him fulfilling the prophetic word of the Old Testament: “Not one of his bones (was) broken.”
This scene fulfilled yet another Messianic prophecy, as John points out in verse 37. The piercing of Jesus’ side with the spear of the soldier recalls Zechariah 12:10. There in promising the days of deliverance that He would bring about for His wayward people, the Lord declared, “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.”
The “evidences” that John provides from both Scripture and personal testimony are for the purpose of evoking a decision on the part of those who read and hear them. In verse 35, he tells us that they are presented so “that you also may believe.” The purpose that this book is included in our Bibles is to lay the groundwork for “saving faith.” John will repeat that purpose at the end of chapter 20. For now, let us recognize that the cross of Jesus Christ will always divide humanity into two camps: those who believe and appropriate His finished work, and those who don’t.
The ramifications of choosing whether to believe or not is literally a matter of life and death. I implore you, just as Moses pled with the Israelite people shortly before entering the Promised Land, “Choose life” (cf. Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Remember the words of Paul: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” This above all else, he said was “of first importance” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3). Nothing in all the world should matter to you as much as this!
The death of Christ will forever be meaningless to you unless you repent of your sins and trust Him as your Savior. Do you really think that God would pay so infinite a price if there was any other way to bring you to Himself? The meaning of the cross is of far greater importance to you than anything else. Have you recognized that, and have you responded appropriately?
There is one more scene described for us before we conclude our look at John’s presentation of the passion narrative. And that is...
The burial of Jesus (19:38-42)
Look with me at verses 38 through 42, where we read:
38 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. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 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. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Isn’t it interesting that while all but one of His closest disciples have forsaken Him, a pair of “secret disciples” are most prominent at Jesus’ death? This is first time that Joseph appears in the narrative, but all four of the Gospel writers mention him by name. The Synoptic writers use words like “good and righteous” (cf. Luke 23:50), “respected,” and “courage(ous)” (cf. Mark 15:43) to describe him. We are also told that he was a wealthy (cf. Matthew 27:57) member of the Sanhedrin council and he had not consented with the others to Jesus’ death. Both Matthew and Mark add that he was “looking for the kingdom of God.” It was this man who would provide a resting place for the body of Jesus.
But Joseph was not alone. With him was a fellow member of the Council, one whom we have met twice before: Nicodemus. He was the one who had come to Jesus by night and to whom Jesus had said, “You must be born again” (cf. John 3:7). We find him again in John 7(:50) where he, like Joseph, had argued against condemning Jesus.
Both are now together at the foot of the cross, mounting up courage to go to Pilate and ready to assume responsibility for burying Jesus. Joseph provided the tomb, and while John doesn’t tell us this too was in fulfillment of the Scriptures. In Isaiah 53:9 the prophet foretold that “They made his grave with a rich man in his death.” Mark (15:46) informs us that this was not a natural cave, but “a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.” It would have been an expensive project to create. John adds it was located in a nearby garden and was one in which “no (body) had yet been laid.”
Jewish burials involved washing the corpse and wrapping it in cloths from the armpits to the feet, with aromatic scents inserted within the wrapping to counteract the scent of decay. A separate cloth was wrapped around the head. We are told that Nicodemus brought the spices—some “seventy-five pounds” in weight—in order to prepare the body for burial. With sundown and the Sabbath rapidly approaching, it is unlikely that they would have able to finish the task before dark. It would have to wait until the Sabbath was past. They, therefore, hurriedly did what they could and went on their way. A group of women would return on Sunday morning, having “prepared spices and ointments” to complete the process (cf. Luke 23:56).
So we arrive at the end of chapter 19 with Christ having been laid in a tomb. Suppose for a moment that was the end of the book. Sadly, for some people, it is because they refuse to believe the testimony of what happened of “the first day of the week” (cf. John 20:1). As we shall see next week, Jesus the apparent “victim” will be revealed as the ultimate “Victor”...the One who overcame sin and conquered death, giving life to all who believe.
It is where this Gospel narrative has been heading all along. In John 10:17 and 18, Jesus said,
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God had progressively revealed to His people that a Savior would one day come to bear the full weight and penalty of our sins, and to rise again in order to grant eternal life to those who repent of sin and trust in Him. The death of Jesus Christ fulfilled the first of those prophecies and His resurrection from the dead would their validity.
Listen again to Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 15(:1-4):
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
If you are among those who struggle to believe the Gospel, let me just say that I get it. It is counterintuitive and it defies logic that our sins can be forgiven by Someone claiming to be the Son of God, who was said to give His life in order to spare ours. And yet this is the message that God commands us to believe. The New Testament calls it “the gospel.” That word means “good news.” Jesus began His public ministry with the charge to “repent and believe...the gospel.”
There is no better news than in knowing that the Lord Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). And there is no better response than to believe that message, to embrace it, and to faithfully share it with others. It is a message, as the later Jerry Bridges was fond of saying, that we need to preach to ourselves (as well as to others) everyday.
Those who refuse to “believe” are left to grasp at other theological explanations or to disbelieve in God altogether. Either of those choices leads to a life of uncertainty and a fearful appointment with death. Scripture calls “death” man’s “last enemy” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26), the very “enemy” that Christ’s death has conquered for those who “believe” in Him and His finished work. For the unbeliever, “death” is an ever-present prospect and one that inevitably enslaves that person to go through life without any certain hope of what lies beyond the grave (cf. Hebrews 2:15).
Thoughts of eternity may be the furthest thing from your mind this morning, but the slow passage of time has a way of lulling us to sleep in terms of contemplating what truly matters. Death has a way of sneaking up on us without warning. Don’t let it catch you unprepared. Hebrews 9:27 says that “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” There are no guarantees that you will have a tomorrow (cf. James 4:13-15). God has said, “Now is the day of salvation” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2).
Every last one for whom Christ died will surely be saved. The Bible states that with absolute certainty. The question left for you to answer is whether you will be among them.
We read in Romans 10(:9-10), “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” John’s stated purpose for writing this book is “that you also may believe”...and continue believing.
So, what does the death of Jesus means for those who have trusted Christ and are believing? The Bible tells us that the Christian life is a life of crucifixion...a daily dying to self. The apostle writes in Galatians 2(:20-21), “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The cross means sharing the suffering of Jesus. Only that person who is willing to die to self and is fully committed to Jesus can truly experience the meaning of the cross.
Ultimately, the death of Jesus Christ is not about us. It is about God getting for Himself the glory that He alone deserves. And He has decreed that the best way of doing that is by choosing a people and redeeming them at an infinite cost to Himself through the blood of His Son. We marvel at why He would do this. And Ephesians 2:7 gives us the reason: “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace toward us in Christ Jesus.” To Him be the glory!