The Sixtieth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus was dead. If there were any doubts, the spear thrust into his side confirmed the obvious. The end of the day was drawing near, and according to Jewish law, Jesus’ body must be buried before sundown. The women devoted to Jesus, along with his mother Mary, have watched the entire gory spectacle and now must bury their beloved. Two surprising figures step forward and ensure that Jesus receive a proper burial. They secure a tomb and the spices necessary for embalming. But even as Jesus’ body is removed from the cross and prepared for burial two things are clear to the readers of John’s Gospel. The first is that the way in which Jesus died fulfilled a number of Old Testament prophecies which pointed ahead to the coming of the Messiah. The second is that even though Jesus’ last words were “it is finished,” Jesus spoke about “rising again from the dead” three days later–it was finished, but yet it wasn’t. But on this terrible Friday afternoon, no one was thinking about such a possibility. Those who loved Jesus and who had believed in him were in shock and grieving deeply. They could not see, nor yet understand that Jesus’ final words meant that the guilt of their sins had been removed and their debt to God was now paid in full. Because Jesus had conquered sin and Satan, he will be raised from the dead, and conquer even death and the grave.
Because of the horrors associated with crucifixion, we are almost relieved when we read in John 19:30 that Jesus cried out “it is finished” and then “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John recounts that Jesus endured unspeakable anguish, pain, and suffering from the moment he was arrested until the moment he died. Our Lord has been hit in the face by the high priest’s servant, beaten repeatedly, flogged twice by Pilate (the second in preparation for his crucifixion), before being crucified–one of the cruelest and most painful forms of execution known to man. While the physical pain must have been absolutely unbearable, we must not forget the humiliation to which Jesus was also subjected. Jesus was rejected by his people (Israel), he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, before being abandoned by the rest. Only John remained to watch as Jesus died. Jesus was found guilty by a kangaroo court which could produce no evidence against him, and even the man who ultimately put him to death (Pilate, the Roman governor), repeatedly proclaimed Jesus’ innocence.
Death is ugly. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ bruised, beaten, and bloodied body was a horrible sight to those who loved him and who remained with Jesus to the bitter end, when Jesus’ physical agony finally ended and he gave up his spirit (a euphemism for death). What those witnessing this awful spectacle could not have known is that Jesus’ physical pain and humiliation paled in comparison to that terrible and yet mysterious moment when the Father poured out his wrath upon his son–when Jesus drank the cup of wrath down to the last drop. Lost in the terrible scene before those watching was the fact that Jesus had completed his mission of accomplishing our redemption. The debt of all those for whom Jesus died, is paid in full. Jesus laid down his life for his sheep.
We can but imagine the chaos throughout Jerusalem that day–on the part of the Romans, the Jewish religious leaders who finally were rid of their chief nemesis, the people of Israel who knew not what to make of what just happened, the disciples who were now in hiding, as well as the women who loved Jesus, and who will prepare his body for burial. It was the longest and strangest day any of them had ever experienced. When Jesus died, the sky turned black as night. There was a frightening earthquake which shook the city. Most likely no one yet noticed that the veil in the temple, separating the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom–the sure sign that the Jerusalem temple was now ichabod, the glory of God having departed.
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