“Read More” to pursue answers in the Gospel of John.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called [the place] of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
It may be somewhat heretical, but I’ve often felt the most important fact we learn from the gospels is not that Jesus rose, but that he died! I mean, if I wanted to start a global movement — and I didn’t mind lying — I would totally fake my own death. That would give me the publicity of martyrdom, but I’d still be able to pull the strings behind the scenes.
Of course, if I was going to do that, I’d definitely go with something less lethal than crucifixion, and killers less efficient than Roman soldiers…
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also [his] coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.
John (the author), perhaps because he’s writing much later that century, appears cognizant of the importance of this event, which is why he lists the witnesses by name:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
He also highlights his own role, albeit not by name:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own [home].
Though the finality of the event is our primary focus, it is still an opportunity to learn more about Jesus, as seen through the eyes of John. He is not only worried about his family, but apparently about prophecy:
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put [it] upon hyssop, and put [it] to his mouth.
And as Forrest Gump might say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
However, John doesn’t stop there. Instead, he gives us some additional rationale for trusting in the finality of Jesus’ death:
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. 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: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
The Romans may not have been rocket scientists, but they knew death. As did John, who makes this the fulcrum of his testimony:
And he that saw [it] bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
If John had seen all that, then I think we’d all agree that he was fully justified in his belief that Jesus was well and truly dead. Sure, we can then ask whether we trust John, and after that whether we trust that the documents accurately reflect what John said. However, the crucial point is that the testimony of the gospels rests on hard, cold, empirical events.
Some might scoff at such secondhand testimony, but the fact is that we can’t function in the modern (or any other) world without trusting somebody’s testimony, whether it is the scientists who test our water for poisons, the doctors who prescribe potentially lethal medications, or the policeman who ask our help capturing a wanted criminal. Yes, they may well make mistakes, but we choose to bet our life and safety on their testimony because a) we consider them reliable, and b) to not trust them could be just as deadly.
Of course, John has the advantage of speaking to a Jewish audience, so he has some additional authorities to back him up:
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.
Again, one could argue that those passages don’t have to be referring to Jesus; but it is awfully suggestive!
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave [him] leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound [weight].
I find it both heartwarming and tragic that Joseph and Nicodemus finally “came out” for Jesus, but only after he was already dead.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation [day]; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
And there he lay waiting. As we too must wait until next time, to hear the rest of the story.
God, there’s an eternity of suffering in these few brief verses. All I can ask is that you give me the courage to follow and even serve Jesus from beginning to end like John. And if I am too much a coward to do that, that you at least grant me the grace to serve Jesus in the end like Joseph and Nicodemus. Thank you for the faithful men and women who risked death many times over to bring this testimony to me. I ask all this in Jesus undying name, Amen.