Perimortum / Postmortum – John 19:31-37

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As you have been previously advised, I’m taking my text from a scripture other than Matthew. John is the only evangelist to deal with this aspect of the crucifixion. For this very reason some Bible-deniers say that this never occurred. Since Matthew and Mark don’t talk about it, the breaking of the criminal’s legs must be a lie. But if that is the argument, then there are several dozen other lies in the Book of John. And if the “beloved disciple” of Christ cannot be trusted, then nothing in the Word of God can be true. John was an eye-witness of the crucifixion, as well as the Apostle of the deified Lord Jesus Christ. And he raised his hand toward heaven, avowing, “He that saw it bear record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” It is as though he expected people to distrust his statement. Perhaps John is the only historian of this event, because he was the only disciple who was present.

His statement in verse 35 demands that we spend at least one message considering this testimony. Our message this morning may not be harmonious – or logically ascending to a critical conclusion. But I believe that we all need to meditate on what has been revealed to us in these seven verses.

Let’s begin by considering the PERFIDIOUS RELIGION of the Jews.

“Perfidious means “faithless,” “treacherous” – “deceitful.” “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” Once again we have another example of what Jesus said of them in Matthew 23. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites….” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites….” How many different points did the Lord raise against them? A dozen or more? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithes….. (but) have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith. These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

At Golgotha the leadership of the Jews committed murder “murder by Roman.” They had broken the sixth commandment of their constitution – “Thou shalt not kill.” Oh, but since it wasn’t their hammer, their nails and their spear, they considered themselves blameless. What utter foolishness, as Peter later declared – Christ “being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, YE have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”

These people whose morals knew no bounds were nevertheless bound by outward religious observances. It was Passover week – the Festival of Unleavened Bread – eight days of joy and thanksgiving. And their festivities and joy were managed by rules and regulations, both written and unwritten. At sundown on the evening of the crucifixion another Sabbath day would begin. It wasn’t just any Sabbath, but a particularly important “high day.” It was such an important day that it was unthinkable to these paragons of religion that it should be spoiled by the dying or rotting bodies of these criminals. They had a religion without Christ, and that is the way they wanted to keep it.

According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” Not only is Galatians 3:13 true – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” but according to Hebrew law it was a curse upon the nation to leave the accursed body hanging. On the other hand, it was Roman policy to leave the victim of crucifixion hanging until the heat, birds, bugs and vermin made it fall naturally to the ground. But in deference to Israel, Pilate sometimes bent his own rules for the sake of a superficial peace. Permission was granted to hurry the deaths of these men, in order to get their bodies down before nightfall.

And with that we come to the PRETENDED KINDNESS of the soldiers.

“Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.” Christ and the two malefactors were considered to be worthy of Roman execution. The oncoming High Sabbath didn’t change the situation. And the victims didn’t get to choose the method of their deaths. The heartless Romans were determined that they would die by crucifixion – not beheading, or run though with javelins, or pierced with arrows. There was no kindness, humanity or mercy shown to the three men nailed to those crosses.

So someone stepped forward to break their legs. But who was it? Was it the Centurion who had just professed his fear, admiration and awe just a few minutes earlier? Or was there a fresh detachment of soldiers from Pilate with orders to hurry things along. Were there three soldiers, each man, perhaps, using his sword to slash down on the exposed legs? Or was there one big husky, merciless man, with an iron rod?

Why do I ask? Because if there was but one man, we see him brutalize first one of the murderers, and then he walked past Christ on the central cross, to crush the legs of the other malefactor, before returning to the Lord Jesus. Was he trying to extend the sufferings of the Saviour – expanding the pain as long as possible before intensifying it? Perhaps it is just a matter of language, to leave the comment about Christ to the end. Whoever the man was in Jesus’ case, he looked up toward His face and saw that Christ was gone. What were the signs of death? I don’t even want to think about it.

We are told that Jesus’ legs were not broken simply because He was already dead, and there was no need. While that is undoubtedly true, there was one additional reason. The legs of Christ were not broken, because It was not the will of the God that the Son of God would have any broken bones. The nails which pierced His hands and feet passed through between the bones. The sovereign will of God overshadowed and controlled whatever commands these soldiers had been given. Such is always the case – God’s will is always done.

So instead of the broken bones, there was a spear to PENETRATE THE SAVIOUR’S SIDE.

“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” In unsuccessfully trying to find an outline for this message, I skimmed over several books in my library. “The Biblical Illustrator” is a 20 volume, 5 foot, set of books containing sermon outlines and anecdotes, beginning with Genesis 1:1 and going to the last verse of Revelation 22. There are some great sermons in this set by Spurgeon and others, down to some really horrible sermons. For example, I perused one message which declared that we are saved through the blood of Christ and the water of baptism with proof of that doctrine found in this verse. There is no such proof in this scripture – or in any other scripture.

In contrast to that Protestant preacher, I might try to point out that we are saved by the blood of Christ “through the washing of water by the word” Ephesians 5:26. Or I could take you to John 3 where Christ Jesus was talking about salvation with Nicodemus. But I seriously doubt that there was meant to be any illusion or figurative message here. When that sword slid between the ribs of our Saviour, it pierced the pericardium, which in simple terms is a sack around the heart containing pericardial fluids created by God to protect the heart. What John reported seeing was an unusual amount of that fluid.

Dr. James Simpson, who died in 1870, was one of the most important medical scientists of his day. Besides being a general practitioner, he became the foremost obstetrician in his day, inventing equipment and implementing steps which eventually saved the lives of thousands of mothers and babies. But his most famous medical advancement was the discovery and use of chloroform for use in surgery. James Simpson was also a professing Christian, and this is what he had to say about the death of Christ. “It has always appeared, to my medical mind at least, that this mode by which death was produced in the human body of Christ intensifies all our thoughts and ideas regarding the immensity of the astounding sacrifice which He made for our sinful race on the cross. Nothing can possibly be more striking and startling than the appalling and terrific passiveness with which God as man submitted, for our sakes, His incarnate body to all the horrors and tortures of the Crucifixion. But our wonderment at the stupendous sacrifice only increases when we reflect that, whist enduring for our sins the most cruel and agonizing form of corporeal death, He was ultimately slain, not by the effects of the anguish of his corporeal frame, but by the effect of the mightier anguish of His mind; the fleshly walls of His heart, like the veil, as it were, in the Temple of His human body, becoming rent and riven, as for us he poured out His soul unto death.” In a physical way, Christ Jesus, the Son of God, died of a broken heart. And the blood and water simply give evidence to that fact.

And there is proof to another essential fact – Christ was truly dead. Despite what many unbelievers have said over the years, Jesus Christ DIED upon the cross. He did not faint or pass out. He was not pretending death in order to avoid the breaking of His legs. He wasn’t drugged in an effort by His disciples, to appear dead, so that in a few days He could miraculously reappear. “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures. And … he was buried, and … he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” That wicked sword gave evidence to Jesus’ death.

Verse 35 declares that John’s was a PRECISE DESCRIPTION of all these things.

“And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” There isn’t any need to spend time on this statement. It says what it says, and I believe it, because I find it in the pages of the Word of God. This verse doesn’t add anything to the details of the crucifixion, except perhaps to underline or highlight it all.

But the last few words add a point which comes up several times from the heart of John – “that ye might believe.” John 20:30 – “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” I John 5:13 – “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” John quotes Christ as saying this same sort of thing several times, and those quotes are not found in any other Gospel. For example in regard to the death of Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe.” In the upper room after Jesus once again foretold His upcoming death, He added, “And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” For both John and his Master, all these things were recorded for our acceptance and faith. “That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Humanly speaking, the primary reason that John recorded his gospel, was so that future generations might put their faith in Jesus the Saviour.

But this statement goes even a little beyond that and seems say something about the Apostle John. For three years this man had been with Christ Jesus – he was as close to the Lord as any other person. We have descriptions of his love and dedication – things which set him above all the rest of the disciples. He appeared to be the only one of the twelve to actually witness crucifixion. And reading between the lines, it appears to me that what he heard and saw of the last few hour of Jesus’ life were burned into his heart, mind and soul. Years later, while pastoring in Ephesus or suffering persecution on the Isle of Patmos, he could go instantly back to the images of Christ on the Cross.

John concludes his account of this incident by pointing to PERFECTED PROPHECY.

“For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.” Why was Jesus’ stabbed rather than His legs being broken? Because that was the prophesied will of God. As Jesus hung there He cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That was a quote from Psalm 22, which as we saw a few weeks ago, is a prophetic description of the crucifixion. Among several points which sound more like history rather than prophecy, David said, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” Christ’s bones were being pulled apart by the nature of the crucifixion, but there were no broken bones. Then in Psalm 34, verse 20 says, “He keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken.” Of course, an unbeliever can argue that these are not really prophesies, refusing to apply these Psalms to Christ on the cross.

But what can that unbeliever do about “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world?” On what day of the year did Jesus die? He died on day when the Jewish Passover was slain. And as Paul reminds us in I Corinthians, “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” The Jewish Passover has several features which speak to the believer about the death of Christ. But one of them which is sometimes overlooked is a direct command of God. Exodus 12:43 – “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover… In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” Not a bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken – not in the sacrifice, not in the roasting of its flesh, and not in the eating. Those were the instructions given to Israel before the first observance of the Passover. Later in Numbers 10 the ordinance of the Passover was reiterated. “The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it.”

Why was Israel to carefully see that not a bone of the Passover was to be broken? Because that Passover lamb was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in order to provide another proof of authenticity to what was seen on Calvary.

In concluding his statement and testimony, John pointed to one more prophecy “They shall look on him whom they pierced.” Again this goes back to Psalm 22 “they gaped upon me.” “For dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones; they look at stare upon me.” But this statement not only has an eye to fulfilled prophecy, but also to unfulfilled prophecy. In his introduction to the Book of Revelation, this same John praises the glorified Son of God. And then in verse 7 he says, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” John’s statement doesn’t just come out of the blue, it is a part of earlier prophecy. In another chapter which have already studied in regard to crucifixion, Zechariah 12 adds that the crucified Son of God will return to His creation as Judge and King. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”

What is my point in all of this today? What I am trying to say is that the Bible is accurate and thoroughly trustworthy. “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” His death fulfilled not only scripture but the eternal plan of God. And this same Christ Jesus is soon to return to His creation, but it will not be a joyful return for those who do not worship, trust and serve Him. We must be living today in repentance and faith in Him, or when He returns we will begin to feel His eternal wrath. Please, repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or die in your sins to be cast into the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.