John 19:28-42 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 85)
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A 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.When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 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.” 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.
What are we to make of all this? Jesus is thirsty. Jesus declares ‘it’ is finished. Legs being broken. Spears being brandished. Water and blood flowing. Garden tombs. It is quite a detailed explanation of someone’s death. Obviously, or perhaps not to some, the person who wrote these words was there and witnessed it. He is not inventing a story to gore us or bore us. He is giving us his testimony of what happened that day to the man Named Jesus.
There are some significant features to this story. I’d like to focus on one in particular. Jesus said, “It is finished.” Then he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” To make this short: No one took the life of Jesus. One cannot steal what is given. Jesus gave His life; he determined when ‘it’ was finished. What we see here is the picture of Jesus who was in control even when He was dying; even when the moment of his death arrived it was so by his own determination.
To whom was Jesus talking, or shouting, when he, with wet tongue and throat, shouted, “It is finished!” Was he praying to God? Was he telling those who were witnessing the crucifixion? Was it just the work of justification, or was it all of Scripture that was finished? Whatever it was, and to whomever he said it, isn’t it satisfying to know that it is finished? Isn’t it satisfying, relieving, to know that there is nothing more that we need to do or that we can do? Isn’t it satisfying to hear those words, to read those words, to meditate on those words of Jesus and know that He has done the Work from start to finish? Isn’t it humbling to know that there is nothing we can add to this work? Isn’t it amazing to know that from generation to generation people will read these words, “it is finished,” and know that for all time the work is done?
Another important aspect of these verses is the importance their author gives to the Scripture. I sometimes think that in the Church we don’t consider the Scripture well enough. We like to pay it lip-service and maybe quote it here and there. Maybe we even believe that it has something to say to us about some aspect of our lives. But here we see Jesus controlling himself in such a way, controlling the events in such a way, that what was fulfilled in his life was Scripture and not his own desires or ambitions.
The Scripture said that Jesus would be thirsty, not have any broken bones, and would be pierced. Jesus knew these things and made a conscience decision to proceed. His ambition was to fulfill Scripture which means, in short, that Jesus lived and died his life with a complete sense of doing the will of God. Scripture means the ‘Old Testament,’ spoken by God through the Prophets. It means that Jesus lived his life and died his life with the sole ambition of Proving God’s Word to be true. He deliberately did things ‘so that Scripture would be fulfilled.’ He left nothing out of the equation.
Doesn’t it make you wonder about our own lives? Don’t you wonder sometimes if we are living our lives in accordance with the Scripture? Don’t you wonder if we are conducting ourselves in such a way that God is justified even if we are not? Jesus’ death accomplished our salvation, but Jesus’ death also justified God. The cross means that no one can accuse God of being unfair, unjust, or uninvolved. “So the justification of God is not given us by Christ; it isChrist; who under the judgment from man took His native place as the judge of all the earth, justifying the God of holy love in His justification of all the world.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 187)
I want to live with that sort of ambition. I can’t justify the world, and I cannot justify God. But what I can do is live my life in such a way that God is, in a sense, justified. In other words, I can live in such a way that doesn’t contradict what God has said: I can live His truth. I want to live my life out of the ambition that the only thing that matters is demonstrating by my words, my conduct, my deeds that God is Right and Just.
Finally, let there be no mistaking this point: Jesus died. He gave up his Spirit. The Blood and Water flowed. The Spear was driven into His side. They took his body down. They wrapped his body. They put His body in a nearby tomb. The people who participated in these activities knew that Jesus was dead. Pilate knew. The soldiers knew. Joseph knew. Nicodemus knew. The disciple testifying knew. No one was in any doubt that Jesus was dead. They wrapped him in cloths, placed him in a tomb with about 75 lbs of spices, and left. There is simply nothing else to say about this scene: Jesus was clearly, without a shadow of doubt, dead.
What Christians believe is there is some connection between ‘It is Finished’ and ‘They placed him in a tomb.’ There is some connection between the work being done and Jesus having died. But what I suspect happened that day is that people saw Jesus placed in a tomb and thought: We are done with that! And so went on the Day of Preparation—preparing for something. But did they know what?
It’s easy to put Jesus in the tomb and forget about Him. It’s easy to seal the tomb with a large rock and think that just another man has been crucified and buried. Even all the cloths and the 75 lbs of spices speak to this thought: They expected a body to rot. They were not expecting Sunday. They had life to get on with: “Break the legs, get them dead, put him in a tomb so we can get on with Preparation Day.” Little did they know that they were totally unprepared for what God had planned. Sometimes I think Christians are the same way. Jesus died and ‘it is finished.’ Then he is prepared for burial, placed in a nearby tomb, and forgotten. Sometimes I think that we are content with the work of Christ being finished in the sense that we get lazy about what he has begun.
Jesus finished something that day when He bowed his head and gave up his spirit, of this there is no doubt in my mind. But Jesus also began something that Day. It is this beginning that we too often fail to bear in mind.
Soli Deo Gloria!