Saturday, March 26, 2016

John 19:28 - 37, A Homily for Good Friday Evening

Our text tonight is drawn from the Gospel of John 19:28-37:
"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. 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."
When we were all kids, there was a CBS TV program titled “You are there”.  The program took us back to pivotal moments in history and allowed us to imagine that we were all there as those events were unfolding.  Being a lifelong history nerd, I loved this program, as it gave me a sense of what was unfolding.  In time after coming to faith in Christ, I began to read the Gospels in the same way, as their narratives allowed me the reader, to stand on the side and witness the redemptive mission of Jesus unfold. 

The Gospel narrative in our portion of Scripture places us at the point preceding Christ’s final moments on the cross.  In the natural realm, his life is ebbing.  He has been awake approaching 36 straight hours and he has experienced indescribable physical and spiritual trauma.  To magnify this all, in his omniscience, he has seen it all and felt the sting of the events before they actually occurred. 

While in deep intercession, before his Father, Jesus experienced an extreme hypertensive event so severe that it caused the capillaries supporting his sweat glands to rupture, mingling blood with his perspiration.  Later, he’d experience multiple blunt force injuries at the hands of Temple Guards, Roman soldiers, and Herod’s cohort.  He suffered severe lacerations/blood loss resulting from a flogging that tore flesh off his upper torso.  Following all of this, in what would have killed most of us, he was then nailed to a rough-hewn Roman cross, Piercing skin, tearing flesh, and damaging nerves.  For the first time in all of eternity He sensed the separation from his Father as the sins of all of humanity was heaped upon him as he who knew no sin, became the offering for the sins of all.  For the past several hours, he had been hanging naked and exposed to the elements.  Here is where we find ourselves in John’s Gospel. Humanity’s redemption was now seconds away from its completion.

 We find ourselves now an unfolding scene that may have taken only a few moments to pass, yet in this short span multiple prophecies were being fulfilled.

Though Christ’s Divinity had no need for food or drink, he absolutely required it within his humanity.  It had likely been fifteen hours since he had anything to drink.  This would be unpleasant under normal circumstances, but he was in the middle of a dire one.  Beaten, flogged, impaled, and now exposed to the midday heat, Jesus was severely dehydrated.  Speaking to those witnessing his execution, he proclaims

“I thirst.”

David wrote of this moment in his 22nd Psalm where it is recorded:

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Responding to Christ’s request, a sponge soaked in sour wine was lifted to him to quench his thirst.  This fulfilled another prophecy as recounted by David in Psalm 69:

“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”
Though the “they” in our passage aren’t explicitly identified, there is ample evidence to suppose that it was one of Christ’s executioners who offered the drink, maybe in a moment of compassion for the condemned.  There were two measures of wine there at the spot of the crucifixion.  There was the fortified wine, mixed with myrrh intended to dull the senses and sedate the victim.  Jesus refused this, intending to face his vicarious sacrifice and death on our behalves fully alert and focused.  The second measure of wine was there for the soldiers, to quench their thirst’s while out in the hot sun. 

There are those who’ve questioned the accuracy of this passage, given the fact that the hyssop plant is a spindly herb which doesn’t grow taller than 24 inches, stating that such a plant would be completely insufficient to reach the height of one crucified or support the weight of a soaked sponge.  Perhaps a more accurate read of this might be that the sponge, rather than being lifted up (or supported by) hyssop, the sponge was lifted up along with hyssop.  This would make the sour wine more palatable to the recipient.  Those soldiers attending the crucifixion, being Legionaries, were armed with a long, slender javelin known as the Pilium.  In its Greek-equivalent, it was known as a hyssos.  But this herb played a much greater role in the religious life and law of the Jewish people.

John tells us that this all occurred in order that “Prophecy might be fulfilled”.  We can’t imagine that this was staged moment by Jesus as if he were playing from a script.  No, his thirst was very real and the Master was parched.  And though the executioners may have been completely ignorant of God’s prophetic word, Jesus knew them intimately as he himself was the Living Word.  He knew that the prophetic was becoming reality.

Hyssop would appear elsewhere in the redemptive story of the Jewish Nation.

In Exodus 12, hyssop was used to mark the LORD’s people. 

“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.”
On that first Passover night when the destroying angel swept through Egypt, killing the firstborn throughout the land.  Only those sheltered behind the hyssop and blood marked doors were spared from this death sentence.

In addition to being the image of the Passover lamb, Christ was also prefigured by the heifer that was given as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  Hyssop was prescribed as part of the Sin Offering that was regularly made on behalf of the Jewish people by their Priests.  Numbers 19 recounts this

"And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer."
Given the aromatics in both cedar and hyssop, this had to provide a scent that masked over the otherwise unpleasant smells associated with the slaughter and immolation of the sin offering.

The state of Christ’s body at mortem was seen in the description of the Passover lamb.  The Lord’s instruction to Israel in Exodus 12, and again repeated in Numbers 9 plainly stated that the no bones were to be broken while offering up the lamb.  This animal was to be a perfect specimen even in its death.

John’s crucifixion narrative describes the routine procedure of Crurifragium, or the breaking of the condemned victim’s legs as either an act of mercy or expediency.  With their legs broken, the ability to support the upper body in respiration was severely compromised.  The victim would soon die from suffocation.  This wouldn’t be the case with the Christ.  As the soldiers went on to shatter the legs of the two thieves, they saw that Jesus had expired.  One of the execution detail members thrust his javelin upwards and into Christ’s Thoracic cavity, ripping through lung, pericardium and heart, resulting in the flow of blood and pericardial fluid. In this moment, the words of the Prophet Zechariah were fulfilled as all in attendance stood viewing the pierced and lifeless body of Jesus.  Many to those now wept

Several have conjectured as to what actually killed Christ.  They’ve addressed the totality of his of his injuries and their theories are reasonable.  I believe Scripture gives us a better answer.  If any singular thing killed the Christ, it was your and my sins.  For our sake he who knew no sin was made to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Those who clamored the loudest for Christ’s death now demanded that his lifeless body be removed from the cross and taken out of sight.  In a moment of sad irony, those who rejected the Lamb of God, were so incredibly zealous to stand on the letter of the law.

If this were the whole story, we would find ourselves at a pretty sad point right now.  The events of that Good Friday were about much more than an exercise in prophecy fulfillment.  It was to be prime meridian of human history and our relationship with our Creator. 
In verse thirty of John’s Gospel account, we read:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The three most powerful words since “Let there be” were shouted from the place of the skull: It is finished! (Telelestai)  God’s redemptive plan that was conceived in eternity past, announced to Adam & Eve in the garden, spoke of by the Prophets, heralded John the Baptist had now been brought to complete fruition.  But what had just happened?

In speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Christ spoke of what would be accomplished on Calvary

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Adam’s sin debt incurred in the garden was paid in full.  From the time of Adam, to the time of Jesus, innumerable animals died and a sea of blood was spilled, yet this didn’t so much as ay the interest”.  In Christ, this debt was now wiped clean.  All who trust in Christ, and in his finished work on the cross could now stand justified, through Christ, before the Father.
Eternal life in the presence of the Almighty was now also made possible through Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.  The promise made to the unknown thief hanging beside Jesus, the promise of dwelling in his presence is also made to whosoever will believe.

So what are we to make of this account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection?  John answers this in his postscript to his Gospel account:

“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”


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