Here's our Scripture for this week:
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders 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. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 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. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He 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.40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At 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. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Nowadays, when someone reveals a secret about themselves, they are said to be "coming out" and telling the world their secret. It sometimes involves a celebrity or a sports star, and there is a big splash about them . . . and then it goes away, and is mostly forgotten.
We'll see today and tomorrow that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus "came out" in this passage, and that in contrast to today, this would never, ever be forgotten.
This passage begins with the battered, bloody body of our Savior hanging on the cross. He had surrendered His spirit into the hands of His Father. John, Mary, and the disciples were, I'm sure, still not quite believing. Looking into His now-quiet face, they probably were trying to wish Him back to consciousness, pleading in their hearts, wanting to hear Him speak.
How could they go on without Him? How could this had happened? Did it mean that evil had triumphed? Had God lost the battle with Lucifer after all?
If you and I had been there, would we be any different? Would we dare to believe that His promise to rise again would actually happen?
In the Law, bodies of criminals that were left on a tree during the Sabbath were said to defile the land:
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a
tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him
that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse.
You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an
inheritance. (Deut 21:22-23)
In addition to that, if there were cries of anguish from suffering Jews dying on the crosses, that would put a real damper on their special Sabbath. According to the commentaries and the historians, breaking the legs of the crucified would cause them to quickly suffocate (they would no longer be able to push up with their legs and alleviate the crushing pressure of their own bodies' weights, and death would come quickly). The historians also add that they would probably be thrown on "Gehenna," Jerusalem's trash heap. What a horrible ending for any life -- but especially horrible for the Son of God.
Here is the irony of the situation: they want to finish off the Son of God so that they can worship the Father. They want to celebrate the feast, which is a picture story of the redemption Jesus brings to us, so they have got to get Him off the cross; they will get the Redeemer out of sight and out of mind, so that they can remember that the Father will send them a Redeemer. They wanted to be free and unencumbered to celebrate a feast which parallels examining our hearts and rooting out sins, so they finished up the sin of the ages. Oh, how similar this is, to when "religious" people reject a personal relationship with our Savior!
He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites;
as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts
are far from me. (Mark 7:6)
They do not want to be quiet and listen to His Spirit speak to them. They "zone out" while sitting in the pew or taking Bible in hand; they are worried that His word might speak to their hearts and convict them of not doing something about their faith. This is what was bothering the Jewish leaders. And it is not too different from many people today -- they'd rather have Him out of sight, and out of mind.
Now that we've looked at the "why" and the "how" of the process, let's go back to our verses: they broke the legs of the other two who were hanging there, but found that Jesus had already died. He had already surrendered His Spirit (compare Luke 23:46 if you have time to turn there). But the soldiers could not take a chance on it -- if they allowed any to escape their custody, they would suffer for their dereliction of duty. They decided to thrust a spear into His side to be certain. Now, the Roman spear was over six feet long, so they thrust it up into His chest and water and blood were released. That's not a coincidence, nor is it unimportant! Here is why . . . John was standing there and saw this, and he wanted us to know that Jesus had truly died. There was no chance of His having fainted. There was no chance that they'd administered a drug in the sponge, that made it seem like He was dead, but really was still alive. No one can survive what happened there. And the blood and water (and the unbroken legs) are really noteworthy. John says these happened so that scripture would be fulfilled:
he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
The Passover lamb was not to have any of its legs broken --
"It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the
Do not break any of the bones. (Ex 12:46)
And Jesus had already been declared by John the Baptist to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
And here is the significance of the water and blood:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of
Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me,
the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one
mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one
grieves for a firstborn son. (Zech 12:10)
This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not
come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who
testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify:
the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
(1 John 5:6-8)
Moving on now, to where Joseph and Nicodemus "came out" . . . To avoid the body of Jesus being taken to the trash heap, Joseph of Arimathea came to ask Pilate permission to remove the body. Wow. What a surprise that must have been to Pilate, after all he'd been through with the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. Pilate must have wondered why Joseph wanted to honor the body of a man that his peers thought was a blasphemer!
And another surprise -- Joseph was accompanied by Nicodemus! He had come to Jesus in the dark of night . . . remember the story in John, chapter three? Jesus had told him that he needed to be born again, and that the Son of Man would be lifted up just like the serpent in the wilderness. It may have been that Nicodemus watched as Jesus' words were fulfilled, and it may have been at that moment he was indeed born again.
Nicodemus had spent a great deal of money on those spices. It was obvious that the two of them had gotten together and compared notes. They had seen the contrast between Jesus and Caiaphas, and they knew (Mark 15:10) that the murder of Jesus was motivated by envy and power-lust. These two men had a lot to lose. Their positions were probably comparable to that of a Senator today -- but they were ready now to walk away from that power and prestige.
They'd decided to follow the crucified Man from Galilee. This was an important day for them; this was the day of their "coming out." They felt compelled now to declare openly their allegiance . . .
If anyone is
ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous
and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him
when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
Just a word to the wise here -- their world will never be the same again, and their "coming out" will never be forgotten. We'll see more about that tomorrow.