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“Crucified, Dead and Buried”

John 19:23-42
Bob DeGray
April 8, 2004

Key Sentence

The Heart of Christianity is Jesus Crucified.


I. Crucified (John 19:23-30)
II. Dead (John 19:31-37)
II. Buried (John 19:38-42)


        The great creeds of the church, written in the centuries following the resurrection of Christ, differ in many details, but they agree about his death and resurrection, because they get these truths from Scripture. For example, in the sermon Peter gave on Pentecost he said “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

        Jesus was crucified; he died; he rose. This is the foundation of our faith. Paul, in sharing with the Corinthians what was of ‘first importance’ said it was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Some years later these truths were put into the form we call ‘The Apostles Creed.’ The unknown authors wrote “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day He arose again from the dead.”

I. Crucified (John 19:23-30)

        This is the heart of historic Christianity - reliance on the fact that our Lord suffered, died, and conquered death. This evening, as we move toward Easter, our goal is to remember his death on our behalf. And the text in John we’re using is the perfect text for that truth. It is john 19:12-42, where we see Jesus crucified, dead, and buried. Let’s begin by reading John 19:23-30, the last part of the crucifixion of Jesus. When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24"Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.”

        25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

        Jesus is on the cross: these moments have been the subject of so much art, good and bad, over the centuries that even for Protestants, Jesus on the cross is a graphic image. Two weeks ago today we visited the Hermitage, Russia’s great art museum, and over and over among the thousands of paintings on display we saw the crucifixion, Christ on the cross, him suffering. Those who saw the movie ‘The Passion’ saw the same suffering in a more bloody form. I’m not saying this should be our strongest image of Christ; I think the empty cross. the empty tomb and the victorious Lamb of Revelation 5 are the greater images. But the crucifixion is real, and in John 19:23 we are right in the middle of that timeless moment. Jesus is on the cross.

        Criminals like Jesus were crucified naked. Not even Mel Gibson was willing to show that, for which I’m thankful, but it’s true. That was part of the shame Jesus endured. It is also why the soldiers expected to get his clothing. John tells us they divided it four ways, possibly his robe, his sandals, his belt, and his head covering. That would leave only his undergarment, which, while worn next to the skin, was actually his tunic, the garment of daily dress. The soldiers, who had probably been gambling anyway, decided to gamble for this item so it would not have to be cut.

        Such behavior may have been common at an execution, but in the cases of Jesus’ death it was also the fulfillment of prophecy. John quotes from Psalm 22:18, which we read earlier, possibly the greatest of the Messianic Psalms, since it so accurately predicts the sufferings of the Messiah in his crucifixion. This is the same Psalm Jesus quoted from the cross, recorded in Matthew and Mark, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabbachthani.’ - ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ That cry implies that Jesus bore our sins so that he was separated from God the Father. Psalm 22 is a foundational Old Testament text because it prophesies not only the nature of the crucifixion, but it’s details. ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’

        In verses 25 to 27 John describes those few of Jesus’ follwers who stood near the cross. These were probably Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, who, though unnamed, may have been the Salome of Mark 16. With them stood Mary the wife of Cleopas, probably the mother of James and John, and also Mary Magdalene, who Luke tells us had been freed from seven demons, and who followed and supported Jesus. With them, the next verse says, stood ‘the beloved disciple’. We’ve already identified this disciple as John, this Gospel’s author. He was the only disciple, except Peter, who followed Jesus through even part of his arrest and trial, and it is not surprising that he should be the one who comes to the cross with these women.

        As they stand there Jesus addresses his mother “Dear woman, here is your son,” and he says to John “here is your mother.” In doing this he shows, again, that despite his suffering he always thought of and made provision for others, even for the care of his own mother. Since none of his brothers were followers, or present at the cross, he choose John to take this responsibility, which John assures us he did.

        Now the moment of death approaches. John reports, verse 28, that ‘Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."’ A man scourged, bleeding and hanging on a cross under the Near-Eastern sun, would be so desperately dehydrated that the thirst itself would be part of the torture. But his cry is also a fulfillment of Scripture. But which one? Some have said that it fulfills Psalm 22;15, which says “my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” a condition that pre-supposes thirst, from a Psalm that has just been quoted. But even better is Psalm 69:21 which says “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” This Psalm is also frequently used in John. So in a sense Jesus is saying ‘I thirst’ to provoke the fulfillment of this verse. In the same way every part of Jesus’ passion was not only in the Father’s plan of redemption, but was a direct result of Jesus’ obedience to it.

        In verse 29 a sponge soaked with vinegar is lifted on at stake of hyssop to Jesus’ lips. This wine vinegar is not to be confused with the ‘wine mixed with myrrh’ which some kind people offered Jesus on the way to the cross. That was a sedative, intended to dull the agony, and Jesus refused to drink it, preferring the cup of suffering the Father had handed him. But the vinegar the soldiers offered Jesus was no sedative, but almost a mockery of a drink, part of his suffering rather than avoidance of it.

        When he received the drink and fulfilled the prophecy, Jesus cried out again in a loud voice. In the Greek his cry is one word, ‘tetelestai’, the same word John used in verse 28 to indicate the completion or fulfillment of all the prophecies. This cry, we sense, is not a cry of defeat, nor merely an announcement of imminent death. Rather it implies that Jesus has carried out all his obligations, completed the work the Father gave him, and so, on the brink of death, he can say ‘it is accomplished’. With that, Jesus bowed his head and handed over his spirit. No one took his life from him, he gave it of his own accord. As S.W. Gundy wrote
        He hell in hell laid low, Made sin, he sin o’ertrhew
        Bowed to the grave; destroyed it so And death, by dying, slew

        So Jesus died. His death is an historical fact, no less true or real than the death of your ancestors, no less certain than death itself. As Americans we distance ourselves from death so that it only becomes real when our loved ones die. Nonetheless, we know instinctively that it is real, final - and wrong. Paul says in 1st Corinthians that death is the last enemy - only when all other enemies are defeated will death be dealt with. In one sense we are looking here at the moment of death’s defeat, but the final victory is still to come. Here it’s death that appears to be the winner.
II. Dead (John 19:31-37)

        The creed says that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. We’ve just been looking at the crucifixion. But that’s not enough - John also takes pains to show us that in the case of Jesus dead is dead. Verses 31 to 37: 31Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," 37and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."

        Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath. Those who hold to a Thursday crucifixion say that the special Sabbath in view was the Passover itself, but if you read the Scriptures laying out the feasts in Leviticus you find that Passover was not a day of rest, but that the first day of Unleavened Bread was. In this case it was doubly special, for it was also the weekly Sabbath.

        The normal Roman practice was to leave those crucified on the cross until they died, which could take days, and then to leave the bodies to be devoured by vultures. By contrast, Jewish law did not permit an executed person to hang overnight. Already cursed, the person’s body would ‘desecrate the land’ or make it ceremonially unclean. Probably this would be doubly offensive on the Sabbath. So the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to hasten the deaths. In this situation, the soldiers would smash the legs of the victim with an iron mallet, which would prevent him from supporting his weight and bring on asphyxiation.

        The soldiers began with the two criminals on either side, who, still alive, had their legs broken. Jesus was already dead, a death hastened on the physical side by the flogging and abuse, and on the spiritual side, by the bearing of our sins. Recognizing Jesus as dead would have been relatively easy, as before death every breath was an agonized exertion. But just to be sure one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear. This may have been intended only to see if there was a reaction, but the thrust pierced Jesus deeply, bringing a sudden flow of water and blood.

        Some doctors say the thrust pierced his heart, releasing pericardial fluid that had built up around it and blood from within. Others say the lungs were pierced, and that bloody fluid built up during asphyxiation had separated into water at the top and blood at the bottom. But the point is that Jesus is truly dead. Already by the time John wrote some people denied Jesus was really a man: he only appeared to be so, he only appeared to die. Even today Muslims hold this view. But John will not allow this fallacy: blood flowed; water flowed; Jesus’ very life fluids were spilled on that soil, and the living man whose body had once contained them lived no more.

        The water and blood can also be seen as symbols. In John 6 Jesus had taught that his blood was the source of life for his followers. In John 7 he had taught that “Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him.” He made water symbolic of both cleansing and of life. There may also be a reference here to the episodes in Exodus and Numbers, where God provided for his people by the flow of water from a rock. All of this is beautifully captured in the Augustus Toplady hymn we sang earlier:
        Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee!
        Let the Water and the Blood, From thy riven Side which flowed,
        Be of sin the double cure; Cleanse me from its guilt and pow'r.

        The importance of verse 34 as testimony to the death of Jesus is emphasized by verse 35: “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” John is saying ‘I’m an eye-witness to this, and I want you to believe the truth based on my testimony’. What better testimony could we ask for than the written testimony of an eye-witness? At the end of chapter 20 John will say “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down.” and “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John’s goal is to encourage people to believe in Jesus and be saved, and John is convinced that because this is eye-witness testimony, it is worthy of our examination and faith. Have you examined it? And do you believe Jesus really died for your sins and really rose again. That’s what John is calling for.

        But in addition to eye-witnesses, John believes in the testimony of fulfilled Scripture. He says ‘These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," 37and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."’ The fact that Jesus was spared from having his legs broken fulfills Scripture, probably Exodus 12:46 or Numbers 9:12, both of which specify that no bone of the Passover lamb may be broken. Since these chapters in John are laced with Passover symbolism, it makes sense that ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ should meet the requirements of a Passover Lamb.

        The second quote is taken directly from Zechariah 12:10, in which God says of the people of Jerusalem and the house of David that he will pour on them his spirit of grace and supplication and that ‘they will look on me, on him who the have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.’ Here God reveals that he himself will be pierced in the person of his Messiah. The prophecy looks forward to the end time when many Jewish people will truly look at Jesus and mourn their sins, and believe. As John uses the text, however, the focus is on the piercing, literally seen in the spear thrust of the soldier. And Zechariah adds an assertion that ‘In that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.’ In a very real sense that spear thrust, that piercing, opened the fountain which cleanses all who will look to Jesus in faith.

III. Buried (John 19:38-42)

        John has assured us that having been crucified, Jesus is now dead. Eyewitness testimony confirms it, the witness of Scripture confirms it, and the spear thrust leaves no doubt. John wants us to know that the Lamb was slain. Any theory that says Jesus wasn’t really human contradicts Scripture. Any theory that says he didn’t really die contradicts Scripture. He was crucified, dead, and buried: John 19:38-42 38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. 39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

        The only thing more confirming of death than death itself is burial. Once a body is buried the living have no choice but to accept the death as real and permanent. So John takes the next step and points out that Jesus was in fact buried, put into what should have been his final resting place. The instruments of this were Joseph of Arimathea, who appears in all four Gospels for the first time when he claims the body of Jesus, and Nicodemus, whom we met in John 3 when he came to Jesus by night. Both men were secret followers of Jesus, but now the shame of the cross causes them to break silence and do something for the one they had been too ashamed to acknowledge.

        Under Roman law the bodies of those executed for sedition were left to the vultures, to add to the shame of their deaths, and to be a warning to others. The Jews, if given the bodies, would bury them, but would not allow them to be placed in family tombs, where they might defile those already buried. They had a graveyard for criminals outside the city. No doubt the leaders who asked that the bodies be taken down thought of this as the fate of Jesus’ body. But Joseph, who had some influence with Pilate, got custody. Pilate probably agreed as a final snub against the Jewish authorities, whose pressure he had succumbed to, but toward whom he had no love.

        As Joseph is getting the body, Nicodemus gathers spices. The NIV says these weighed 75 pounds, but that’s a slight miscalculation: it was probably more like 65 pounds. This seems like a large amount, but it isn’t an error or an exaggeration. In fact some burials involved many times this amount of spice, and some even burned more than this amount in the process of burial. The spices were a mixture of myrrh and aloes, and were not intended to preserve the body, but to keep the odor of decay under control while the burial rituals were attended to. The spices were apparently laid out on strips of linen and wrapped around Jesus’ body. More spices were laid under and against the body. well. This was only part of the Jewish burial procedure, but because of the hurry to get things done before sundown, it had to suffice.
        All this was done in a place quite close to the place of crucifixion, a place with a garden and a new tomb, a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. The nearness of the tomb was a great help in getting the burial done by sunset. Since this tomb was newly cut out, there no were no other bodies in it, which mean that when the resurrection occurred it would be empty: only one body had disappeared, and only one person could have been resurrected. The garden in which this tomb was located was probably an orchard or grove belonging to Joseph or his family, apparently large enough that Mary Magdalene assumed there would be a gardener.

        This site is almost certainly not the garden tomb to which tourists are directed, although after centuries of change, the garden tomb probably looks more like the original than the actual site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has been built and rebuilt. John does not mention that Joseph rolled a stone across the tom’s mouth, or that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary saw where Jesus was laid, but both details are assumed by the opening verses of the next chapter. Nor does John emphasize the emotion of despair that must have accompanied this burial, but that’s assumed in the next chapter as well. Jesus is dead, and all the hopes and dreams of his followers are dead as well. Yes there are promises that he made, but what are promises compared to the reality of that cold dead body, wrapped in the linens, laid in the tomb, sealed to keep life out and death in?. The disciples don’t know what’s going to happen Sunday. All they know is that the light of the world, the light of their lives has been snuffed out like a candle.

        We, who know what is going to happen, do well to share briefly in their sorrow. For now, the light of the world has been extinguished. But Sunday’s coming.