Monday, February 15, 2016

Jesus Was Dead:A Lenten Story (John 19:31-37)


MARLEY was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. 

Do you know those words? That is the beginning of one of my favorite Christmas stories: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But this is not the Christmas season; this is the Lenten Season. It began last Wednesday, “Ash Wednesday,” and is a season of 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter. But unlike Christmas, we don’t have a lot of “Lenten stories.” For the season of Lent, there is only one story. It is the story of Jesus’ death, and it ends with the celebration of His victory over death in His resurrection. So, to paraphrase Dickens, our Lenten story may begin like this:

Jesus was dead. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. Jesus was dead as a door-nail. John knew he was dead. He had been his disciple for three years, and was the only apostle present at the crucifixion. And John’s testimony was true. There is no doubt that Jesus was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the rest of the story.

The Christian faith is rooted in historical events that have spiritual significance. The ancient creeds of Christianity express the core tenets of our beliefs. The Nicene Creed contains this line: “For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried.” The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried.” In our text of Scripture today, John goes to great lengths to describe the death of Jesus. But why? Is it not enough to simply say that He died, without all the added detail? Well, for reasons we shall see as we move through the text, these important details are significant for us as we consider the fact that Jesus died, and was assuredly dead, upon the cross.

I. The Physical Certainty of Jesus’ Death

The record of Scripture is attested to by secular history to such an extent that there should be no serious dispute about the fact that Jesus really lived and died. However, this fact of His death has long been debated by various groups of people. By the time John wrote this Gospel, near the end of the first century, a group known as the Docetics argued that Jesus neither lived nor died. They believed that God was far too holy to ever defile Himself by taking on human flesh. For them, Jesus only seemed to take on human form, but His humanity was nothing more than an illusion. Their writings suggest that Jesus could alter His appearance at will, and that He left no footprints in the sand when He walked. By the same token, they believed that He never actually died, but only appeared to have died.

Still today, there are those who believe that Jesus did not really die – at least not then and there at the cross. Many Muslims, for example, believe that Jesus did not die at all. With a view that is strikingly similar to that of the Docetics of the First Century, the Qur’an says concerning Jesus that “they did not kill him, neither did they crucify him; it only seemed to be so” (Surah 4.156). Though not all Muslims agree on the exact meaning of this statement, many believe that God would not expose a great prophet like Jesus to such a shameful death, and therefore, Jesus was actually substituted in His death by another, who was transformed to look like Jesus.

And then there are the rational skeptics who deny the possibility of miracles. Because of their anti-supernatural bias, they go to great lengths to explain away the miracles that are recorded in Scripture with merely naturalistic explanations. Alternative explanations are offered for the resurrection of Jesus, for example. One that is frequently heard is that Jesus did not rise from the dead when He emerged from the tomb on the third day, because He was not really dead when He was placed in the tomb. It is argued by some that He merely fainted, or swooned, as a result of agony and blood-loss on the cross. Then, after less than 72 hours of convalescence in the cool and arid tomb, He mustered enough strength to unwrap Himself from the grave-cloths, roll away the massive stone, fight off an entire detachment of soldiers, walk seven miles to Emmaus, and convince His disciples that He had actually conquered death in a glorified body.

John leaves no room for such alternative theories as these as he demonstrates the physical certainty of Jesus’ death. According to John’s account, the physical death of Jesus was ensured. Notice in verse 31 that the Jews were concerned that the bodies of the crucified men not remain on the cross after sunset, so as to not defile the Sabbath. Jesus died on Passover, the 14th of Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar, which happened to be a Friday that year. Every Friday is regarded as “the day of preparation” for the Sabbath. Passover is always considered to be a Sabbath, no matter what day of the week it falls on; and since the following day was actually the Sabbath, it was considered to be a “high day” – the Sabbath of a major festival week. The Mosaic Law actually specified that those who had been executed by hanging from a tree could not remain hanging on the tree all night, but had to be buried the same day, that the curse of that criminal not defile the entire land. Of course, the Roman authorities had no regard for Jewish religious customs. Their normal custom was to leave crucified men on their crosses until the vultures and scavenger animals had devoured them. But because it was a high holy day, and religious fervor was high, there seems to have been an increased sensitivity to the wishes of the Jews. So Pilate granted their wish to hurry things along.

Because death by crucifixion could take days, a common way of speeding the process was to break the legs at the knees. This made it impossible for the crucified man to push himself up to draw breath, ensuring that death would come quickly. In June of 1968, the bones of a young man who had been crucified were discovered just north of Jerusalem. His bones revealed that a single nail had been driven through each forearm, and a single nail had been driven through both heels together. In fact, the nail had bent from the force of the hammer and was unable to be removed, and so the nail was still present. One of this man’s legs had been shattered by the blunt force of a single blow so strong that the other leg was cracked as well.[1]    

Upon Pilate’s acquiescence, the soldiers began the gruesome ordeal of breaking the legs. One took to the thief on the right side of Jesus, and another to the thief on His left. “But coming to Jesus,” the Bible says, “they saw He was already dead.” This was quite remarkable in itself, for no one died that quickly on the cross! Crucifixion was a long, slow, horrific death, and yet Jesus had died within a few short hours. For most men it would take days. But Jesus was not like most men. No one can simply decide to die and then do it – no one! But Jesus could. In John 10, Jesus speaks of laying down His life. He says there, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” And when He had said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) and then, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He breathed His last (Lk 23:46). Never did a man live like Jesus, and never did a man die like Jesus.

Because Jesus appeared to already be dead, His legs were not broken. But in order to ensure that He was really dead, John tells us that one of the soldiers “pierced His side with a spear.” He was already dead, but if He hadn’t been, this would have done the job. His death was ensured. And then it was evidenced. Blood and water flowed from His side. Medical experts have set forth several plausible theories about this blood and water, and we won’t go into them here and now. John’s point was not to perform an autopsy, but to indicate that there was no mistaking the fact that Jesus was dead.

Jesus’ death was a physical certainty. The Jews and Romans went to great lengths to ensure His death, and the flow of blood and water from His side are evidence of His death. But, the physical certainty of Jesus’ death is not the only point that John intends to make. He also wants to be sure that we observe…

II. The Prophetic Significance of His Death

John has carefully explained throughout his Gospel how many of the things that Jesus said and did fulfilled prophecies that were spoken through the prophets of the Old Testament. But Old Testament prophecy was not limited merely to spoken or written words. There are also prophetic people and events that point forward to the person of Jesus, types and shadows of what the Messiah would be and do. And all of them find their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth.

As we have already observed, day of Jesus’ death was the day of Passover. This was no coincidence. The entire observance of Passover always pointed to Him from its institution in Egypt in the days of Moses. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb applied to the doorposts of the Hebrew homes in Egypt spared them from the plague of death and delivered them from Egypt’s bondage, so the blood of Jesus delivers us from bondage to sin and saves us from the plague of eternal condemnation. Therefore, Jesus is described by John the Baptist as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29),  and by Peter as “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19). Paul speaks of “Christ our Passover” who has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7).

Now, for the original Passover lamb that was to be slaughtered and eaten on that fateful night in Egypt, the Lord gave a very specific instruction – “you are not to break any bone of it” (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12). And so John says here that when the soldiers decided not to break Jesus’ legs, they were unknowingly fulfilling the Scriptures. In verse 36, he says, “these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’” We began our service today with a reading from Psalm 34. There, David writes, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken” (34:19-20). The Lord Jesus is the perfection of righteousness, and so in a unique way this passage points to Him. It would not be uncharacteristic for John to have had both of these passages in view as he wrote, and his point may be that because Jesus is the Righteous One, He is uniquely fit to be our Passover Lamb, and as such not a bone of His body would be broken, for God would not allow it. In His death, He fulfills the Passover in an ultimate and eternal way for us.

There is further prophetic significance mentioned in verse 37. Not only is Jesus the Passover Lamb of prophecy, but He is also the Messianic King of prophecy. John says, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’” It is originally found in Zechariah 12:10. Notice how John says that this “Scripture says, not that this Scripture was fulfilled. This prophecy actually points to something yet future – the return of Christ at the end of the age. It has not yet been fulfilled – at least not in total. This promise, in its original context, points us forward to the Messiah – the God who is King – and assures us that He will come, He will be pierced, and then He will return and be seen again. So in order for this prophecy to be fulfilled, there had to be a piercing when He came. And here John describes how the soldier pierced His side so that blood and water came forth. This One who was pierced was none other God Himself in human flesh. In Zechariah’s prophecy, the Lord says, “They will look on ME whom they have pierced.” They will see the One who was executed unjustly, but who willingly laid down His life for our sins.
Remember that after the resurrection, Jesus invited Thomas to investigate the wounds in His hands and in His side. In His glorified body, Jesus still bears the wounds He suffered for our redemption. He is coming again, and when He does, every eye will behold Him. They will see the One whom John describes in Revelation as “a Lamb standing, as if slain.” The wounds of His piercing will be visible to every eye on that day when He returns in glory. For those who have trusted in Him as Lord and Savior, it will be a great day of joy and salvation. For those who have not, it will be a day of terrible judgment and wrath.

In describing the death of Jesus in such great detail, John is showing us its prophetic significance. In His death, we see Jesus as the Passover Lamb and the Messianic King that had been promised, foreshadowed, and symbolized through the centuries as God was working out His eternal plan of redemption. And that brings us to our final point …

III. The personal response to His death

Several decades ago, the late Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote a book entitled, Elvis is Dead, and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself. Well, after reading and examining in some detail the fact that Jesus was dead, some may be tempted to say, “Jesus is dead, but what does His death have to do with me?” Perhaps John knew that some who read his Gospel would feel that way, and so he pens a personal note in verse 35.

He says, “He who has seen has testified.” John began his Gospel by saying of Jesus that “we saw His glory.” In 1 John 1, he says that we have heard Him, we have seen Him with our eyes, we have looked at Him, and touched Him with our hands (1 Jn 1:1). John was among those who saw the Lord Jesus performing amazing signs and wonders among the people of His day. But John was the only one of the twelve apostles to witness the greatest display of Christ’s glory. That display of glory was seen ultimately in His death on the cross. Though the other disciples had all fled and forsaken Jesus before He went to the cross, John says, “I saw it.” He was there. And this is his testimony of the things that happened there on that day. And John says of his own words, “his testimony is true.” In other words, it is an eyewitness account, and it is trustworthy. He says, “he knows that he is telling the truth.” He knows that he has not included any details that are not factual or left out anything of importance. And this trustworthy, eyewitness account has been recorded for a specific purpose: “so that you also may believe.”

Belief is the personal response that we are invited to make to the death of Jesus. But what is it we are to believe? In Chapter 20, verses 30-31, he writes, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

That passage tells us that life comes through believing that Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah who was promised to come for our salvation; the Son of God – that is God in human flesh. He has fulfilled all the prophecies. He is the Passover Lamb and the Messianic King. He is the God who became man, to live among us, and to die for us – that our sins could receive their full penalty in Him as He died in our place, and we can be forgiven. Just as blood and water flowed from His side when He was pierced, so His atoning blood flows freely to us to cleanse us from our sin and reconcile us to God in a covenant relationship. We are washed in the living water of the Holy Spirit as He shapes us to be like Christ while we live by faith in Him. Believe in Him, that you may have abundant and eternal life in His name as a free gift of God’s grace. 

Jesus was dead. One day, if He tarries His return, we will all be dead. The season of Lent serves in part to remind us of this fact. Just as we behold the death of the Savior, so we know that we are all mortal, and will die as the wages of sin takes effect in our lives. But the Bible promises us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). Death is nothing for the believer in Christ to fear, because it has been swallowed up in His victory over it (1 Cor 15:54). As we approach death, we are following by faith the One who has died our death for us, and overcome it in resurrected glory! Jesus has died, and we will too. But we follow Him to death, and we follow Him by faith through death into everlasting life if we believe upon His name!

[1] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 1.367-368, 375.

Monday, February 08, 2016

It is Finished! (John 19:30)


In the Creation account that we find in the Book of Genesis, we are told that on the seventh day, God rested from all His work which He had done. In the Book of Exodus, we find the Fourth Commandment, which instructs us to rest on the seventh day in honor of what the Lord Himself did during creation. Now for us, the rest is necessary because after six days of work, our bodies are tired and need time to recover. But for God, He did not rest on the seventh day because He was tired. He rested because He was finished. The Bible says that by the seventh day, “God completed His work which He had done” (Gen 2:2). We serve a God who completes whatever He begins. And in the sixth word that Jesus speaks from the cross, recorded for us in John 19:30, God the Son declares, “It is finished.”

In English, we read three words, but in the Greek New Testament, we find it is only one word: Tetelestai. This single Greek word is so profound that the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon said it contains “an ocean of meaning in a drop of language, a mere drop. It would need all the other words that were ever spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it.”[1] Obviously we cannot say all that needs to be said about such a word in the time we have today. We must find some way to limit the discussion, and I have chosen to limit it by the bounds of this text and its context. The words of John 19:30, and the surrounding context speak of the finishing or completion of two particular aspects of the work of Christ. It speaks of the fulfillment of all the prophecies about Him, and it speaks of the completion of His mission to save the world from sin.

I. The prophecies have been fulfilled.

Last Sunday, we dealt with the saying of Jesus in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.” And we discussed the necessity of this saying in order to fulfill prophecy. John said in verse 28, “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill Scripture, said, ‘I am thirsty.’” One of the reasons He said, “I am thirsty,” was to fulfill Scriptures that stated that the suffering Messiah would thirst in His dying, and that He would be offered vinegar to drink. Every other promise that had ever been made by God’s prophets about the coming of the Messiah, His earthly life, His ministry, and His suffering, had taken place. Of course there were more prophecies that had not been fulfilled yet, and those would have to follow His death. But the prophecies concerning how He would come, who He would be, what He would do, and how He would die, had all been fulfilled. Now that He has announced His thirst and been offered the sour wine-vinegar to drink, He can say at last, “It is finished.”

Spurgeon said, “There is not a single jewel of promise, from that first emerald which fell on the threshold of Eden, to that last sapphire of Malachi which was not set in the breastplate of the true High Priest.”[2] The Messiah had been prophesied as the Seed of woman (Gen 3:15); born of a virgin (Isa 7:14); born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2); a descendant of Abraham (Gen 12:3, et al.), of Judah (Gen 49:10), and of David (2 Sam 7:12-19). Of course all of these are uniquely true of Jesus. In addition to these and many other aspects of His birth, there were explicit prophecies concerning His ministry on the earth. When Jesus entered the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of His public ministry, He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, and the reading for the day was from Isaiah 61 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." And then Jesus closed the book, and sat down, and said to the congregation, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:18-21). Those words describe perfectly the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. He did preach the Gospel to the poor. He did proclaim liberty to those who are captive in sin. He did grant sight to the blind. And He did many other things that the Old Testament had announced in advance that He would do. When John the Baptist was in prison awaiting his execution at the hands of Herod Antipas, he sent word to Jesus: “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” And the word Jesus sent back to John was this: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:2-5). In other words, “I am doing everything that the prophets said the Messiah would do.

And of course the prophets also spoke of His suffering and death. In recent weeks, we have mentioned the prophetic images in David’s Messianic Psalms, particularly Psalm 22 and Psalm 69, which spoke of His manner of death. But nowhere will you find a more exact description of the suffering of the God’s Anointed Servant than in Isaiah 53.

He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering … Isaiah 53:3-10 (NASB)

And now each one of the multitude of prophecies has been finished, fulfilled, and completed. They are completed in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Spurgeon notes, “Brothers and Sisters, what a wonderful thing it is, that a mass of promises, and prophecies, and types, apparently so heterogeneous, should all be accomplished in one Person!”[3] Indeed, if we were to read all of the prophetic descriptions of the Messiah apart from knowing Christ we might consider them to be contradictory and impossible to find fulfillment in a single person. In the words of Spurgeon, “He must be a Prophet like unto Moses, and yet a champion like Joshua; he must be an Aaron and a Melchizedek; he must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph. No, He must not only be the lamb that was slain, and the scapegoat that was not slain, the turtledove that was dipped in blood, and the priest who slew the bird, but He must be the Altar, the Tabernacle, the Mercy Seat, and the Showbread!” Where can all of these promises, pictures, and prophetic words and images come to pass in one person? Only in Jesus. Spurgeon says, “Take away Christ for one moment, and I will give the Old Testament to any wise man living, and say to him, ‘Take this. This is a problem; go home and construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that which is herein foreshadowed.’” [4] If Christ had not come to fulfill all of these things, then they could not have been filled in any other individual. And thus, as He died, the Lord Jesus is able to examine the catalog of biblical prophecies, including and up to His thirst, the drink He would be offered, and now His impending death, and say with confidence about the entire array, “It is finished!”

These words, or the singular Greek word Tetelestai, indicate that the prophecies are all fulfilled. Now, a second truth is expressed in these words as well, and that is …

II. The mission has been accomplished.

If you are like me, I imagine that you often start more things than you finish. My library is filled with books I never finished reading. Around my house and my office are the remnants of projects that I started and never got around to finishing. Marathon runners have unintentionally taught me a lot about life. Once upon a time, if I heard someone say that they had run in a marathon, I may have asked naively, “Did you win?”, or, “What place did you come in?” But marathon runners have taught me that most people don’t run marathons to win. They run to finish the race. The victory, for them, is found in crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. The more I think about that, the more I think that life is a lot like that. What matters is not how fast we run the race, or even what place we come in, but whether or not we finish what we set out to do. When Jesus died, He could say in a unique sense that no one else ever could, “It is finished.” He had completed what He came to do.

The mission of Jesus was announced by the prophets in advance, and it was declared to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 before His birth: “you shall call His name Jesus (which means “Yahweh, or Jehovah, is salvation”), for He will save His people from their sins.” He came to save His people from sin. And how would He do that? Jesus said of His own mission, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28). His mission was to serve humanity by giving up His life as a ransom to save us from our sins.

We understand this word “ransom,” and usually associate it with a payment that is made for the release of hostage or someone who has been abducted. We envision movies where someone glues letters clipped from a magazine or newspaper together to make a ransom note, and then someone shows up with a briefcase full of money in exchange for the release of the victim. Well, in the case of our predicament and Jesus’ ransom, the situation is somewhat different. We have not been abducted or kidnapped. We have willingly entered a state of slavery – slavery to sin. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God, and by that act, humanity was taken captive in the slavery of sin. Each of us is born in that state by virtue of their sin, but each of us makes our own sinful choices as well. So we are sinners from birth by nature, and we demonstrate that through our own sinful choices and actions. Our predicament is utterly helpless and hopeless apart from the delivery of a ransom. But Jesus did not come to earth from heaven with a briefcase full of unmarked bills. He came into the world with all that He would need to pay the ransom – a human body with blood coursing through its veins. The ransom to deliver us from sin was to be paid with His blood as He becomes our substitute and sacrifice on the cross. At the cross, He bore the sins of humanity beneath the full measure of God’s wrath. As He carried our sins, the fellowship of God the Father and God the Son was ruptured for the first time in eternity, prompting Jesus to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But now, with the ransom price having been paid through the sacrifice of our substitute, Jesus can say, “It is finished.”

For centuries, on the altar before the Tabernacle and the Temple, countless animals bled and died as sacrifices for sin. But the work of the priest was never done. These animals did not pay the price. They were like purchases made on credit. They promised that payment would be made, but the payment had not yet been delivered. And so, one after another, at times by the dozen, by the hundreds, or by the thousands, more and more blood flowed from lambs and bulls and goats. But the price had not yet been paid. It is interesting that when the Lord gave Moses the instructions for building the Tabernacle, He specified how every furnishing was to be constructed. But there was one piece of furniture noticeably missing. There was to be no chair, because the work of the priest was never done. There was no time for sitting and resting, for there was always more to be done, more blood to be shed. And so the writer of Hebrews says, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He (Christ), having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12). He rested from His work, for His mission of redemption was finished.

Archaeologists have discovered ancient papyri in the Near East which were receipts for taxes that had been paid. And across those papyrus pages are written the single Greek word, Tetelestai. It means “paid in full.” If you were to write out all of your sins, and the penalty that they deserve in the justice of God, and staple that list together with that of every human being who has ever lived or ever will, you would find that Jesus has written in His blood across every page, Tetelestai, “Paid in full!” It is finished. Our sin debt is paid for by His blood in His substitutionary death on the cross. Paul says in Colossians 2:14 that Jesus has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” The record of sin and condemnation was nailed to the cross as Christ became sin for us. He received our wrath and paid our debt. It is finished and it is paid in full.

This means that nothing more is required. How will you be saved? By looking to Christ as your sin-bearer and seeing the debt of your offenses before God as paid in full in Him. What more then can you add? Can you add your own works to this? Can you add participation in some ritual, or observance of some holy day, or financial contribution to any religious institution to this? No, because the debt is fully paid. There are some things that can be improved by addition. You can improve your paycheck by adding an extra digit. But there are other things that addition only destroys. Imagine if you were to add a “g” to the word “love”? Would it make it better? Would you rather have “love” or a “glove”?[5] I remember my high school science teacher mixing chemicals in the lab one day. He mixed the liquid from one bottle with another liquid from another, and nothing happened. But then he dropped just a few flakes of another chemical into the beaker, and a small explosion occurred. That is what happens when we try to add anything to the completed work of Christ. It doesn’t enhance our salvation, it destroys it. Spurgeon said, “Will you pin your rags to the fine linen of Christ’s righteousness? Why will you add your counterfeit farthing to the costly ransom which Christ has paid into the treasure-house of God?”[6] You have nothing to contribute; all you can do is receive. The price has been paid by grace, in blood, and in full for you.

Over the years, I have asked many people a simple question: “Suppose you were to stand before God and he were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’” Many of those people have said to me, “Because I am a good person, and I’ve done some good things,” and so on. I explain to them how God has offered Jesus as a substitute to receive our penalty in Himself on our behalf in His death on the cross. I ask them, “Have you ever put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” Some have said no. But some have said, almost as an afterthought, “Oh sure, that too.” Friends, it can never be “That too!” It must be “That only!” Our only hope is to be found in Christ alone, and we can add nothing to the salvation that He offers us freely by His grace. If we try to add to it, we are saying that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said, “It is finished.” It is either finished or it is not. If it is, then you need nothing but Christ. If it isn’t, then we have no hope at all before God. It is as simple as that.
Perhaps you are here today and recognize that you have never fully trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ to save you. You have never turned to Him in repentance of your sin and faith that He died to save you by taking your sins upon Himself at the cross. Today, you can look to the cross and find all of your sins forgiven because Jesus has paid the full debt and finished the work of your redemption. He has paid your ransom completely. There is nothing you can do to add to that or take away from it. You can simply trust Him to fulfill what He has promised. And He has promised that all who trust in Him will have their sins forgiven and receive His own righteousness in exchange before God, and be reconciled to God and granted eternal life as a free gift of His grace. It is finished, and it is offered to you if you will only trust Him to save you.

Undoubtedly there are others here today who would call themselves “Christians,” who think that being a Christian is about something you do. If you describe your Christianity as something that you have done, then that is not Christianity. The Good News of the Christian Faith is that you cannot do anything to make yourself right with God. It has all been done for you by Jesus. Your part is not to do but to receive what has been done for you. He has paid your ransom from sin in full. I heard it said a long time ago when I was just a young Christian, “Christianity is not spelled D-O, but D-O-N-E.” All that is required to reconcile you to God and rescue you from sin has been done by Christ, and when it was completed, He said with finality and full confidence, “It is finished!” And because His work of redemption is finished, you can rest in Him. Rest from your tireless effort of trying to earn God’s love and favor. Rest from the anxiety and fear of never being good enough. Rest from the constant struggle of trying harder and doing better. Say to Him, “God, I am a hopeless sinner apart from Christ, and I receive what He has done for me and trust Him to save me.” And the Lord Jesus will say to you, “It is finished.”

[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Christ’s Dying Word for His Church,” in Sermons on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), 170.
[2] Spurgeon, “It is Finished.” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon No. 421, December 1, 1861, p. 2. Available online: Accessed March 28, 2012.
[3] Spurgeon, “Finished,” p. 2.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Philip Ryken, “Mission Accomplished,” in James Montgomery Boice and Philip Ryken, The Heart of the Cross (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1999), 57-58.
[6] Spurgeon, “Finished,” p. 6. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

"I Thirst" (John 19:28-29)

The four Gospels record for us a total of seven statements that the Lord Jesus made while He was dying on the cross. In rather short succession, John records three of them. We looked at one last Sunday – chronologically the third – in which Jesus entrusted His mother Mary into the care of His disciple John (the author of this Gospel). Today, we come to another. In chronological order, it would be the fifth saying. Here Jesus says simply, “I am thirsty.” These words seem rather pedestrian to us perhaps. What could be significant about the fact that dying Savior is thirsty? We may be tempted to think that this expression is relatively unimportant. But be sure of this, the words are of tremendous importance. If for no other reason, they are important because it is Jesus who spoke them, and no word that ever crossed His holy lips is unimportant. This statement is also important because the Holy Spirit inspired the inclusion of this statement in the Word of God. For some reason, God the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary for all generations to know that the Lord Jesus declared that He thirsted upon the cross. His thirst is significant for us. But why? I don’t know that we can ever exhaustively answer the question, but we can at least begin to make an attempt at an answer. And in so doing, I want to point out four aspects of His thirst on the cross that are of the utmost importance for the world to know.

I. The Human Thirst of Jesus

Several years ago, I took my family to a museum to view an exhibit of mummies from around the world. It was fascinating on so many levels, but one thing that really impressed me was a short video that is shown prior to entering the exhibit. In that video, the visitors are reminded that the mummies they are about to see are real people who lived real lives and died real deaths, and as such, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It would be easy to view them as merely historical artifacts or even to some degree objects of ancient art, and forget that they were real human beings. We can sometimes run into a similar dilemma regarding the humanity of Jesus.

Ever since the first century, people have customarily made three errors regarding Jesus. Some have considered Jesus to be fully God, and not at all human. Others have made the opposite error, considering Jesus to be fully human, and not divine at all. I would suspect that this has been the most common misunderstanding about Jesus throughout history. The third error that people have made about Jesus is to see Him as something of a half-and-half being, a demigod perhaps, greater than a man, but not quite God.

Well, if all of these are incorrect, what is the correct view of Jesus? The only proper way to understand who Jesus is would be to recognize Him as fully man AND fully God. This is how He is presented to us in Scripture. He is not half-and-half, but all-and-all. We see His full deity in His virgin birth, His miracles, His limitless knowledge, and most vividly in His resurrection from the dead. Certainly, it is wrong to miss the fact that He is fully divine. But we must be careful to remember that Jesus was also completely human in addition to being fully God. We see His humanity on display as He grows from infancy to adulthood, and matures physically and grows in obedience to His earthly parents. We see Jesus being tired and sleeping; we see Him hungry; we see Him weeping. And on the cross, He demonstrated several very human experiences. He hurt. He suffered. He bled. He died. But before He died, He tells us that He thirsted. He was fully God, yes, but never forget, also fully human. And thank God He was. We need Him to be fully human.

If Jesus is going to redeem humanity from sin, He has to be human to make the sacrifice.  If He is going to bear our sins, He has to identify completely with us. If He is going to be our eternal High Priest, then He must be one who can sympathize completely with our human experience. And Hebrews 4:15 assures us that “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” If He were not fully human, it would make no difference that He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. If He were only God without a human nature, those temptations would have no effect upon Him, and His victory over them would not be significant. But because He was fully human, He could be our righteous and sinless substitute. As a man, He fulfilled every command of God’s Law and withstood every temptation that humans can experience. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

It would be easy for you to think that God cannot relate to your hardships in life. But that would be a mistake. Remember that Jesus, in the flesh as a human being, was tempted in all things as we are. Have you been betrayed? So has He. Have you been mistreated? So has He. Have you known sorrow? So has He. Have you ever been thirsty? Yes, so has He! And because we have such a great high priest who can sympathize with our every human experience, Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We must never fail to worship Christ as our God, our fully divine Lord and King. But in so doing, we will be greatly helped in our daily Christian lives to remember that He was fully human also. He lived this life that we live. And as if to remind us never to forget, He says as He dies, “I am thirsty.” It is a very human experience—a very human thirst.

II. The Prophetic Thirst of Jesus

“I thirst.” It helps us understand and remember that Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine. That is the effect of the statement. But the effect of a thing is often different from the purpose of it. Did Jesus say these words for the purpose of telling us that He possessed a human nature? How could we ever know why He said this? Well, it would help if the Bible told us. And it does! Look at verse 28, and let’s read it together slowly.

  • “After this” – After what? What precedes this in John’s Gospel is the third saying, when Jesus entrusted Mary into the care of John. But we know from comparing the accounts of the four Gospels that darkness had covered the land and from the depths of that darkness, Jesus had cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” as He bore in His body and soul the wrath that the sins of the whole human race deserved. So, it was after this.
  • “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished” – That is, He knew that the ransom had been paid, the debt had been settled, the penalty of sin had been satisfied and that death was rapidly approaching.
  • “To fulfill Scripture, [He] said, “I am thirsty.” – Ah! So here is the reason then plainly stated! Why did Jesus say, “I am thirsty?” He said it to fulfill Scripture.

Every prophecy that had ever been written about the coming, the ministry, and the suffering of the Messiah had nearly been fulfilled. Just a small number of things remained, and they would be completed momentarily. But there was one specific aspect of the suffering of the Messiah that needed to be acknowledged before His death: His thirst. In Psalm 22, David spoke of His own suffering, but what he wrote exceeded his own experiences. He wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of a far off day in which the Messiah, the royal offspring of David, would suffer a torture that no one in David’s day ever experienced or witnessed. The 22nd Psalm speaks of the forsaking by God that Jesus endured, and the betrayal and despising He experienced at the hands of men. It speaks of His bones being out of joint, the rupturing of His heart, the piercing of His hands and feet, the dividing of His garments. And in the midst of all this prophetic imagery of the cross, it says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws” (Psalms 22:15). It was prophesied that the Messiah would thirst in His suffering.

Not only this, but in the 69th Psalm, we read that the very drink that Jesus was offered was prophesied in Scripture as well. David is again writing of his own suffering as a foreshadowing of the suffering of the Messiah. And in the midst of the description we read in Psalm 69, we read, “They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalms 69:21). And all of this was fulfilled with precision at the Cross. When He arrived at Golgotha, Matthew 27:34 says that they offered Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink. The word gall can have many meanings, but in this context it refers to a bitter-tasting poisonous herb that was mixed with sweet wine to make it palatable, and which was used as a rudimentary anesthetic to kill pain. It was prophesied that Jesus would be given gall for His food. But it was not prophesied that He would take it. And He didn’t. Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus refused this concoction when it was offered to Him. He would not deaden the pain or soften the suffering of His ordeal, nor would He dull His senses or His faculties as He bore the sins of the world. It was also promised that they would give Him vinegar to drink. And when He said, “I am thirsty,” there just happened to be a jar of “sour wine” standing nearby, and it was offered to Him and He received it. It was a cheap wine vinegar that soldiers often used to slake their thirst. It could not have been water. It could not have been freshly made wine. It had to be the wine-vinegar that the NASB translates “sour wine,” because that is what had been prophesied.

The Scriptures are very specific about the Messiah: who He would be, how He would come, what He would do, how He would suffer. And every jot and tittle of those prophecies had to be fulfilled with precision, and they were. Jesus had to announce His thirst so that the world would know that He was thirsty, and so that someone would raise the vinegar to Him. Thus, His thirst, and even the beverage He was offered, are testimonies that confirm that He alone is the promised Messiah and redeemer of Israel and the world. He said what He said so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

III. The Enduring Thirst of Jesus

I want you to imagine, to pretend, for a moment with me that you were at the cross witnessing the death of Jesus. Pretend that you were there, and that you were standing nearby. You are close enough to hear Jesus speak with labored breath these sayings, and you hear Him say with a faint groan, “I am thirsty.” Looking around you, you see the jar of wine vinegar. You see a sponge laying there, and a stalk of a hyssop bush that you can use to raise the vinegar-soaked sponge to His parched lips. Are you there in your mind? Now, let me ask you, do you do it? Do you offer Him drink to satisfy His thirst? Think it through carefully. If I do this, what will the consequences be for me? Will I be punished for doing this? Is it appropriate? Is it permissible? Others perhaps say immediately, “Of course! Here is a thirsty man! Here is drink! Why should I not give Him drink? Yes! I would do it! I would give the thirsty Jesus a drink!”

Even the youngest children know that it is fun and easy to play pretend. You can pretend to be anything or do anything you can imagine. And in some of our daydreams and fantasies we always do better than we do in real life. So, the next time you see Jesus thirsty, what are you going to do? Are you going to give Him a drink? Now you say, “Pastor, when are we ever going to see Jesus thirsty?” Well, in fact, Jesus Himself said that we will find Him thirsty, and we will have the opportunity to satisfy His thirst.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us what it will be like in the day of judgment, and He says that the angels will gather the nations before Him. He will separate the entire human race as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep will be on His right and the goats on His left. And to the sheep He will say, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me” (Matt 25:34-36). And these who are His righteous sheep will say to Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And Jesus says that He will say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:37-40).

Now, who are these brothers of Jesus? Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of His brothers being His disciples (Matt 12:48-49; 28:10). This corresponds to the experience of the Saul on the road to Damascus, when the risen Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul was unaware that he had been persecuting Jesus; in his mind He was only persecuting Christians. But Jesus seems to indicate that how we treat His followers is in effect how we are treating Him. What we do to them, we do to Him. But there is another sense in which the Christian is compelled to act in a charitable way to any person, regardless of whether or not they are believers in Christ. That seems to be the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan. My neighbor, whom I am to love as myself, is anyone who has a need that I can meet. So, it seems that when Jesus says that, whenever we have given drink to the least of His brethren, we’ve given it unto Him, that He intends to say that we should help anyone who has a need, giving particular attention to those of the family of faith. That, after all, is what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:10 – “ So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

So, would you give Jesus a drink to satisfy His thirst? Know that around you today may be a thirsty follower of Jesus, a brother or sister in the family of God who has a need that you have the means to meet. Will you serve them and meet that need? Jesus says that if you would, then what you are doing to them, you are actually doing for Him. And you are doing the same as you aid even the total stranger who may not even know Jesus. But your cup of cold water for the thirsty stranger may be the beginning of his or her journey to Jesus as they see Him in you through your act of lovingkindness. Jesus was thirsty on the cross, and His thirst endures. Will you offer Him drink?

IV. The Vicarious Thirst of Jesus

In the study of Christian doctrine, we sometimes encounter unfamiliar words that are difficult to understand. One of these hard words that we encounter, which is actually very important for us to understand, is the word vicarious. We use this word to refer to Jesus as our substitute. In His death on the cross, He became for us a vicarious atonement for our sins. He died in our place to atone for our sins so that they can be forgiven and we can be reconciled to God. So, we understand that a vicar is someone who stands in for another. Christ’s suffering and death is vicarious in that He is our substitute and our sacrifice as He takes our place under the judgment of God.

Now, there is a sense in which we can point to the thirst of Christ even as a vicarious act. He thirsted for us. His thirst reflects the physical reality that He was dying a slow death of dehydration as His blood and sweat poured from His body. And He did this for us. His thirst was not only physical but spiritual as well. As the Psalmist said, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You O God” (Psalm 42:1). Jesus, having been forsaken by His Father under the penalty of sin, thirsts for the presence of His Father once again. And He endured this for us. And in that forsaking, as He bore the penalty of our sin, it is as if He endured all of the fury and fire of hell on our behalf. We might recall that story that Jesus tells in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus. Both men died, and Lazarus found himself transported to paradise with Abraham while the rich man went to Hades, the place of separation from God where the unrighteous await their eternal destination in hell. And Jesus says that the rich man could see across the great gulf that separated those two locations, and he cried out to Abraham asking him to send Lazarus to bring him aid. Do you remember what he said? In Luke 16:24, the rich man says, “send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” The agony and unquenchable thirst that this rich man experienced in the torment of the flames of wrath were the same that Jesus experienced on the cross. And He experienced it for us. It was a vicarious thirst. He bore the penalty and the wrath of judgment that we deserve for our sins. There has never been a human being to live who did not deserve this. But in His loving grace and mercy, Jesus thirsted in the agony of judgment vicariously. He did it for us.

This was not the first time in Scripture that Jesus was thirsty and asked for drink. You may be familiar with that story in John 4 when Jesus came to Jacob’s well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. As they begin to dialogue about the well and the water there, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). You see Jesus was thirsty, and this woman had water that could satisfy His thirst, but it wouldn’t last forever. But Jesus wanted this woman to know that she also had a thirst in her life. And Jesus had water that she knew not of – living water that would spring up within her to eternal life. He said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (4:10). He said something similar in John 7 – “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).

You see, every one of us was born with a thirst for something that nothing in this world will satisfy. People try to satisfy it with money and possessions, with knowledge and power, with relationships and sex, with drugs and alcohol, with therapy and medication. But the emptiness is still there and the thirst is unquenched. We are like people adrift in a salt-water sea, dying of thirst. We are surrounded, in the words of Coleridge, by “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” If we drink from the salt-water, it only adds to our thirst. You see, over-top of every fountain in this world that you are tempted to think will satisfy you, you need to envision the emblazoned words of Jesus: “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again.” C. S. Lewis put it this way in the most brilliant sermon he ever preached: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”[1] But that is the thing, you see, we are NOT pleased. We try to tell ourselves that we are, but soon enough we thirst again. Augustine said it this way: “You made us for Yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”[2] But we are cut off from that rest and from the only living water that can eternally satisfy our thirst. Our sins have fixed a great gulf between us and our God and King who alone can satisfy our deepest longings. But thanks be to God, He has bridged the gap! In the person of Jesus Christ, He has borne our sins and their penalty. He has died our death! He has taken vicariously upon Himself our unquenchable thirst so that our thirst can be quenched eternally!

It is because Jesus thirsted for us that we find this description of heaven in Revelation 7:16-17 – “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And it is for this reason that the Bible concludes with a glorious invitation: “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev 22:17). The living water that satisfies eternally is freely offered to us by the grace of Him who thirsted in our place! Every longing that you have is pointing you to Him like thirst drives you to water. And nothing outside of Him will ever satisfy that thirst. Come and drink deeply from Christ. He thirsted for you so that you will never thirst again!

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
[2] Augustine, Confessions (Penguin Classics edition; translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin; New York: Penguin Putnam, 1961), 21.