The Death and Burial of Jesus – John 19:28-42

Throughout the gospel of John, you may recall other events that John has not chosen to include. John is selecting his material to go along with the particular themes he is developing. Not all the trials details were included, nor does John give all of the “seven words from the cross.”  In today’s reading, we see what are known as the fifth and sixth statements – about thirsting, and the pronouncement that his work is finished.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 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. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Jesus, even at the very end, is focused on fulfilling all of the prophesies of Scripture. And here with the vinegar he fulfills Psalm 69:21, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

The hyssop branch being used continues the Passover theme, as this sturdy branch was used to mark the door frames … from Exodus 12:22, Take a branch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply to the top of the doorframe and the two side posts some of the blood that is in the basin. Not one of you is to go out the door of his house until morning.”  And we may also recall it being used in David’s Psalm of contrition (51:7), “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Notice that Jesus does not say that he is finished, but that IT is finished – the work of redemption that he was sent to accomplish.

31 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.”

The breaking of legs of crucifixion victims hastened their deaths in several physiological ways, including an inability to push upward and breathe. In 1968, the skeletal remains of a crucified person were found, and the legs were broken. This fulfilled another prophecy (Exodus 12:46; Num. 9:12; Psalm 34:20).

The piercing of the side by the sword – witnessed by the writer, John – gave testimony to the full humanity of Jesus Christ. By the time this gospel was written, the Gnostic movement was a current problem in the early church – denying the physical reality of Christ and claiming he was a sort of mystical, phantom, angelic figure that merely appeared human. Of course, for Christ to be a true and final sacrifice for us, it was necessary that he be fully man, yet without sin. This piercing also fulfilled detailed Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, “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.”

38 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.

Some of the other gospel accounts give us a fuller picture of this Joseph of Arimathea – from a town about 20 miles distant. He was wealthy, and though a member of the Sanhedrin, he was described by Luke as “a good and upright man who had not consented to their decision.” He was also secretly a disciple of Jesus in this context where being an open follower was rather dangerous.

So this Joseph, along with Nicodemus, take the body of Jesus and use about 75 pounds of spices on it – rather excessive and costly. And they bury Jesus in a newly hewn tomb nearby – one that Matthew records was for Joseph personally. This too fulfilled another prophecy that though despised, he would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). These details of the preparation and wrapping show that there is no possibility of someone who had just “swooned” and that the coolness of the grave would revive him to be able to push open the stone, etc., etc… all rumors from that day until now.

So Nicodemus and Joseph are fellows who arrived a bit late to the party of the followers of Jesus … but they got there. Doing what they did was dangerous and without any merit for personal gain.

Being identified with Christ is often costly. People daily in our world pay the martyr’s price for faith. Being so despised is normal. Our easy life for Christ in America is the exception more than the rule. It may not always be that way; and there may be a time when life circumstances will call us to be a modern Joseph or Nicodemus.