Dead is dead! – John 19:31-42
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 21, 2016
History, science, and personal experience tell us that when someone dies they are dead. The dead do not come back to life. I learned about this for the first time when I was younger and my brother Ed and I learned how to make live traps in order to catch the chipmunks around our granduncle’s cabin. We caught several of the cute little fuzz creatures only to watch them curl up in a comatose ball and die from fright. It was crushing to say the least and there was nothing we could do to bring them back to life. Dead is dead.
John now relates to us that Jesus was indeed dead. Jesus’ death is important to the Gospel narrative and all the Gospels relate that Jesus died. However, what does this mean for us this morning? Let’s discuss just what Jesus death means and why dead is dead…
My mother was 93 years old when she died. And while her health was pretty good she did suffer from dementia and diabetes. We also knew she would die but it was unexpected when it occurred. Here in John’s Gospel we discover that…
I. No matter how hard we try we are never truly ready for death! (Vv. 31-37)
Now 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. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 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. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
1. If you were a good Hebrew you wanted to participate in the Passover and the Sabbath before the Passover was a very big deal. And we discover that “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” This special Sabbath was the day in which all Jews appeared and presented themselves before the Lord in the temple, and the sheaf of the first fruits was offered up. We also learn that in their piety “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.” Breaking the bones of those hanging on crosses caused their death more quickly because they would drown from the fluid that formed in their lungs. They would not be able to push themselves up to get a breath. In fact, archaeological find of a crucifixion, which came to light in 1968, the skeletal remains revealed that the lower legs had been shattered by a single blow. This was in accordance with the law which stated, “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.” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23 NIV) “The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” Jesus was already dead so the Jewish leadership’s plans to mark Jesus as a true criminal even in his dying were thwarted. “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” Breaking the lower leg bones was called in Latin the crurifragium and without this procedure a person could live for many hours or even days. Not breaking Jesus’ legs and piercing his side with a spear was witnessed by John himself, “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.” This was important for John because “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.'” (Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10) While Preparation Day was coming, nothing could have prepared John for Jesus’ death. No matter how hard we try we are never truly ready for death!
EXAMPLE: A lot of folks never give a thought to their own deaths let alone the death of others. Yet this is a fact of life; death is certain. We are often shocked by the deaths of those who are young, those who are famous, or those taken from us by surprising means. In 620 BC, Draco, an Athenian law-maker, was smothered to death by the gifts of cloaks and hats showered upon him by appreciative citizens at a theater! In 1567 Hans Steininger, the burgomaster of Braunau (now Austria), died when he broke his neck by tripping over his own beard which he usually kept rolled up in a leather pouch! In 2010 Jimi Heselden was a British entrepreneur, who bought Segway Inc., maker of the Segway personal transport system. Heselden died in from injuries sustained falling from a cliff while riding his own Segway! No matter how hard we try we are never truly ready for death!
We are never truly prepared for death no matter how much we know that it might occur. However, we learn that there we certainly can prepare ourselves for entering eternity. John the Baptist related, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36 NIV) The fact remains…
II. We should prepare ourselves for death! (Vv. 38-42)
Later, 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. 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. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 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. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
1. Not having the time to prepare Jesus’ body we find that “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.” Who were these men that they cared enough to want to bury Jesus properly? Joseph of Arimathea, which was about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem, was a wealthy man. How do we know this to be true? Matthew relates that “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” (Matthew 27:57 NIV) And Mark related, “Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” (Mark 15:43 NIV) We also learn from Luke that he “had not consented to their [Sanhedrin’s] decision and action”. (Luke 23:51) John tells us that “Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.” The Romans would leave bodies hanging to rot, be eaten by wild animals or birds of prey. Some would be thrown into Gehenna, a deep, narrow gulch to the south of Jerusalem, where the idolatrous Jews offered their children in sacrifice to Molech. During Jesus’ day it was a huge dump where dead bodies of animals and criminals and other refuse were thrown. However, “With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.” We know that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and “a member of the Jewish ruling council.” (John 3:1) Nicodemus was the one Jesus told that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15 NIV) Perhaps Nicodemus had a change of heart and wondered about Jesus had told him that night. Lovingly “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” Men hardly ever did this task of preparing the dead; it usually was a woman’s duty. We learn that “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.” Matthew relates that it was Joseph’s “own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.” (Matthew 27:60) Joseph and Nicodemus had to work quickly “Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” We are never truly ready for death; however, we should prepare ourselves for death!
EXAMPLE: If you have not done a will, you should do one whether you are young or old, if you are working and living on your own and especially if you are married — you need a will. Life insurance is another thing many ignore, but believe me if you are the loved one left behind when someone dies without it, you could be stuck with all kinds of costs you cannot afford. Term life insurance is cheap and a must. A living Will is another thing that is sometimes forgotten by us as well. A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. It must be in written form, witnessed, and made available to your family, physician, care giver, or hospital. You cannot simply tell someone your wishes and expect them to be followed. Then finally there is planning for your burial. Far too many folks leave this to those left behind to do and it can become horrendous. There are cheap insurance plans for this as well. There is a free service called Medcure where you donate you remains to research and they will then cremate them and give them back to your loved ones or dispose of them if you want them to. While we are never prepared for one’s death, we should prepare ourselves for death!
In our society today we are not prepared for death. We ignore it, try to do everything we can to stop it, and yet it still comes for us. There are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Hebrews teaches us: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV) No matter how hard we try we are never truly ready for death! However, we should prepare ourselves for death! Jesus died that we might live.
This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.