Lenten Reflections

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John 19:31-42

April 2, 2021
John 19:31-42

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.”

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.


There have always been those who have said that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. He merely fainted and then revived several days later after he had been laid in the cool of the tomb. Personally, I find it harder to believe that after being flogged and crucified, Jesus survived 36 hours in a cold dark cave without food, water, or medical attention. I find it even harder to believe that he recovered with enough strength to remove the boulder that sealed the tomb, to escape the detection of the guards, and to give his followers the impression - not that he had been beaten within an inch of his life - but that he had conquered death itself. Talk about a conspiracy theory! 

Against such wild theories, the gospel of John makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was truly dead. The soldiers who oversaw the crucifixion were trained executioners. They certainly knew when a man was dead. Their typical practice was to break the legs of those who had not yet expired. By doing so, the crucified man could no longer hoist himself up to grab another breath of air as he slowly died from asphyxiation. When it came to Jesus, however, there was no reason to break his legs because they could see that he was already dead.

To guarantee their conclusion, the guards pierced Jesus’ side and out flowed “blood and water.” This provides yet more proof. If a living person is pierced in the chest, blood would flow. In the case of someone who is already dead, however, the blood would separate into clotting blood and a watery fluid. The original eyewitnesses observed this separation of blood and water.

Finally, there is Joseph of Arimathea who secured permission to bury Jesus before the sabbath begins. Pilate would not have relinquished the body unless he was confident Jesus was dead. Moreover Joseph and Nicodemus did not harbor any hopes that Jesus would revive. They prepared Jesus for burial with 75 pounds of spices. Against the charge that perhaps the women went to the wrong tomb on Sunday morning, we learn here that this was Joseph’s own tomb and there is no question he knew where it was located.

Jesus did not merely faint or pretend to die. He died. Jesus experienced the full reality of death so that we might only have to experience a weakened form of it. Jesus transforms permanent death into temporary sleep for those who cling to him by faith.

How does the gospel writer implore us to believe what he has seen with his own eyes?