John 19:31-42 | Jesus is the (Temporarily) Dead Messiah | Andrew Gutierrez
Topic: Worship Gatherings Passage: John 19:31–19:42
And please open to John, chapter 19. John 19:31-42 is the text for the morning, and if you’re new with us, we are pretty close to the finish of the Gospel of John. We’ve been going through it for a couple of years now, and yes, during advent season, during Christmastime we are focused on the cross for a little while. And so there’s not so much of Jesus as the baby in the manger but Jesus on the cross.
And so we come to the text in chapter 19 where he actually is dead, and John’s making that point to us. As we saw last week, there are a lot of parallels between the birth of Christ and the death of Christ. There are a lot of truths that are highlighted in both narratives, both accounts, and today we’ll see some similar realities, some things that seem like are identical—not identical, but similar to things that happened when he was born you see on the cross—and those will become more clear a little bit later.
But I think it’s appropriate that we focus on the death of Christ at Christmas. Like I mentioned before, he didn’t just come to be a baby. He came to live a perfect life, even a perfect life as a young child, according to Luke 2:42. He lived a perfect life as a man and then died the death that we all should have died. And so the message of Jesus is not just limited to a manger; it also encompasses the cross and the empty tomb as well.
And so we come to this passage, John 19:31-42, and I’ve entitled it “Jesus is the (Temporarily) Dead Messiah,” because as you know from the rest of Biblical revelation, Jesus didn’t stay dead for very long—three days—and that’s important to us. So I can’t say Jesus is the dead messiah without kind of getting a twitch. Because he’s not currently dead, but he once was dead, and that’s what John focuses us on in this passage.
So let me read the passage for us, John 19, verses 31 through 42.
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. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 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. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 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. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 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. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Jesus is the temporarily dead messiah.
I have a word that I want you to keep in your head throughout this time this morning. I want you to keep the word “devotion” in your head. Being devoted to something or somebody.
We think a lot about devotion during this time. We think of Mary being devoted. Mary had something put upon her that she never would have expected. I don’t think she grew up playing with dolls, picturing her wedding day and her marriage and having kids to happen the way it actually happened. She was conceived of the Holy Spirit, not by a man. And so Mary is called to carry the Savior of the world for between nine and ten months, and then to birth him, and then to be his devoted mother to care for him until he becomes the Savior, the King of the world and fulfills his entire ministry. So Mary didn’t plan this, but Mary was a devoted mother, certainly. We know that to be true.
Joseph—a little concerned about what people were saying about his betrothed. How is it that she’s pregnant and she’s never been with a man? Joseph, who thought about running, had to be devoted to God’s plan after he was told in a dream, in a vision, that this child would be the Savior of the world, and he was to stay married to Mary. That’s some devotion there from Joseph.
Joseph and Mary, probably walking along the streets, probably being seen together, probably had a lot of people roll their eyes at them, scoff at them. Yet Joseph was a devoted father, devoted husband to Mary.
You see the magi coming from some have estimated between 500 and 1,000 miles away. Once Jesus is born, there’s a star in the sky; they set forth on their journey—there might have been more than three of them. There were just many. People say three because there were three gifts that they brought, but there might have been many of them, maybe two. At least more than one is what we know.
These magi were devoted. And they had to go 500 to 1,000 miles to see this child, and no, by the way, they didn’t show up at the manger. They showed up a while later, as it would take a long time to travel 500 to 1,000 miles without airplanes. Sorry if I ruined some of your Nativity scenes, but oh well; the Bible does things like that sometimes.
Devotion. You see devotion around the time of Christmas. You also see devotion in this text, and I want to point out two points of devotion that we’ll see, and that’s really going to frame our time together. I want you to see two necessary responses to the death of Jesus, two calls for devotion.
In this passage, in verse 35, John does something that he normally doesn’t do too often. He kind of inserts himself in the middle of the story and tells you something that you need to know about the story. He tells you why he’s writing it, tells you why he’s framing it the way he is. In verse 35, John says this: He’s focused you on the cross, he’s focused you on the legs being broken and the spear and things like that, and then John kind of grabs your face, puts it in front of his, and says, “He who saw it [me, John] has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”
So in all these events that have taken place, John is kind of taking you away from the cross for a moment, looking you straight in the eye, and saying, I saw this; I’m telling you the truth; this is true; you need to believe. And what we’ve highlighted all through the Gospel of John is that belief isn’t just some mental assent. Oh, I believe in Jesus. I believe he existed. Belief according to John is entrusting your life to him. I trust Jesus. With my day, with my week, with my year, with my life, with my eternity. And that’s what John is calling us to, to be devoted to trusting Jesus.
And then, in verses 38 through 42, John’s going to talk about two men that many people might not have thought were devoted to Jesus, but they were. And so we’re going to see John early in the passage actually prescribe us to be devoted to Jesus, prescribe us to entrust ourselves to him. And in the second part of the passage, we’re not going to hear a prescription; we’re going to see a description of two people that were devoted to Jesus.
There’s devotion in this passage based on the death of Christ. If Christ dies for you, the only logical response is devotion to him.
1. Believe in the Death of Christ
So first, first call for devotion or the first necessary response to the death of Christ is belief in the death of Christ, and when I say that, I’m not saying, believe that it happened. I’m saying, believe in the meaning behind it. Believe that Christ died for sinners. Believe in what he did.
The gift of God to the world, Jesus Christ, is dead. And this is meant to change our lives. The fact that he died on the cross is meant to change us, is meant to draw up devotion from us to him.
Verse 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.”
The idea of the legs of the three criminals—Jesus identified as a criminal—the legs of the criminals being broken is a theme in these coming verses. It’s mentioned a few different times. John wants us to know that this is what happened. There was a request that these three men have their legs broken.
This is prior to the Sabbath. This is not just any old Sabbath; this is the Passover week Sabbath. This is a high day. This is an important day. And when the Jews saw someone executed on a cross by the Romans, the Romans would oftentimes leave the person there to die for days. The Jews couldn’t wait for a long death, because if someone was left on the cross overnight, their land would be defiled. So they go to Pilate and say, let’s get this over with; they need to die fast. Crucifixion wasn’t always a fast death.
So the Jews go to Pilate and ask that these three men have their legs broken. Why their legs broken? Because if you can’t push up on your legs, you can’t gain that air. And your arms are going to get tired after a while pulling yourself up without the use of your legs through the nails to receive that air, so people would die rather quickly once their legs were broken.
This is the Jewish day of Preparation; they’re preparing for the Passover lambs to be slaughtered, and they need this to happen before sundown. These men need to die. And without having their legs broken, it might have taken them quite a while to die—not Jesus, because he evidently had been scourged quite a bit, and he was not far from death once he was even put on the cross. We’ll see a little bit about that in a moment.
But the Jews need these three men to die quickly. What they would normally do is they would take an iron mallet and shatter the shin bone of the person on the cross. There’s no way you can push up anymore on your legs. And so the Jews are asking that this happen. They go to Pilate and make another request of Pilate, which, remember, they did not have a great relationship with Pilate, but this is the request.
Deuteronomy 21 is the reason they made this request. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says this: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
So if Jesus stays dead overnight through the night, their land is going to be accursed. And these Jews were all about following the Old Testament, when it suited them. So this is why the request.
Verse 32: “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
So why did they go to the other two criminals first and to Jesus last? I don’t know. They just did. They went to one—broke his legs. They went to the second one—broke his legs. Came to Jesus—and I don’t know if the guy had the mallet up in the air or they looked first—whatever it was, they didn’t break his legs because he was already dead. No need to break his legs. Big deal. Yes, big deal. You’ll find out why later.
So they come to these two criminals; they break both their legs. They come to Jesus; he’s already dead, so no need to break his legs.
Verse 34: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” So mallet to the shins, mallet to the shins, they come to Jesus; he’s already dead, and so the soldier takes a spear, which would have probably been about three and a half feet long, had an iron tip, and jabbed it into the side of Jesus, probably into his heart because that was the normal custom. One of the soldiers pierces his side with a spear, and at once there comes out blood and water.
So this man is proving that Jesus is dead. Or if he had a little bit of life in him, he doesn’t anymore. Jesus is dead. This is what John wants us to focus on. He didn’t even need his legs broken; he’s already dead. The Messiah, the Chosen One, the one that we read about in Isaiah 9, the eternal King, the Wonderful Counselor—dead. In the Jewish mind, they weren’t expecting a dead Messiah, but this is what happened.
So John is focusing us on the fact that Jesus is dead. These Roman soldiers weren’t bad at crucifixion. They did this a lot. They don’t make mistakes like this. This one’s not dead; let’s break his legs. This one’s not dead; let’s break his legs. This one, oh, is dead, and maybe they just missed something and later on he’ll rise from the dead because he was actually never dead in the first place. John is showing us, because John knows later on when he writes this that there are people that say, well, maybe Jesus never died. Or, maybe Jesus wasn’t completely human. No, Jesus died; John’s telling us. They didn’t even need to break his legs, and they stabbed him through the heart.
And secondly, Jesus is completely human. When he was stabbed, blood and water came out. Blood and a fluid came out, a clear liquid came out, just like would happen to any of us if we were on the cross, in that situation, and someone stabbed us through the heart. Jesus is completely man, and he’s a man who was dead, is the point of the passage.
Why blood and water? What’s the significance? Well, there’s a medical significance and there’s a Biblical significance. The medical significance is that there’s a clear fluid in the pericardial sac, and the sac was punctured and the fluid came out, as did blood, which would come out if you were stabbed through the side and through the heart. Jesus is a man. So why blood and water? Because that would happen to any man or woman. Jesus is a man.
What’s the Biblical significance? John in 1 John 3 writes about the fact that Jesus came with water and blood—Jesus came as a literal man—but if you know your Old Testament, water was also a sign of cleansing and purification, was it not? The New Testament writers talk about this as well. We were washed by him. We were cleansed by him. We were made clean by him.
The New Testament writers also talk about the fact that his blood was shed for us, blood pointing to death, so he died for us. So we were cleansed by him, and he died for us. So Jesus as fully man and fully God cleanses us and atones for our sin. That’s the idea here behind why John is writing this. He’s really a man, he really bled, he really had this liquid come out, but he also is a man who cleanses us from sin and atones for our sin.
And again, here’s the abnormal verse. Here’s the thing that John doesn’t normally do. Sometimes he’ll insert a thought, like a little parenthesis for the reader to understand. He did that earlier in verse 31 when he talked about the Sabbath, and he has a parenthesis—“(for that Sabbath was a high day).” He’s trying to remind the reader of what you should know about this text.
But then, this one in verse 35 is a rather lengthy insertion. And when you’re studying a narrative passage, by the way, when you’re reading a narrative passage and the writer of the narrative kind of inserts his own thought or his idea, you’re kind of getting closer to what he’s trying to get you to understand about this whole story. So it’s not just, feel pity for Jesus; he died. Poor Jesus, he had a spear put through his heart. John is wanting you to know, no, no, no, you need to believe in this Jesus. You need to believe that he died completely.
John says, “He who saw it,” myself, John—John never refers to himself as John—“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” (John 19:35). You hear John beseeching you to believe. He’s begging you to believe. This isn’t John saying, [in monotone voice] I saw it happen; come on, just believe it. He’s making an argument to you. I saw it. This is true. It’s truth. I’m not lying. You need to entrust your life to this. You need to believe this message. You need to believe that he died.
I don’t know if you’ve ever told someone the truth and they didn’t believe you. I didn’t do that thing, boss. It wasn’t me. Well, you’ve done it before. It wasn’t me. I’m telling you the truth. You need to believe me! This is the tone of John. You need to trust me. I was there. I saw with my own eyes.
In his letter, in his epistle later on (1 John 1) he’ll say, I touched it with my hands, I touched it with my hands, I saw him. I know what I’m saying. This is true. You have to believe this. And in a room this size with this many people, there have got to be people who don’t entrust their lives to Christ.
Jesus Christ’s closest friend, the one whom he loved, is saying for the reader of all time—not just the person in the first century; for the reader of all time—saying, you have to believe that Jesus died. Okay, fine. But the message that’s bigger than that is that he died for sinners. He died for those that reject him, so that they could respond to him and trust their lives to him. That’s what John is calling us to. Devote yourself to Christ because he died for sinners, and you are a sinner.
Verse 36: “For these things took place that Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” John’s calling on us to believe in Jesus’ death because it lines up with everything that was prophesied about the Messiah. This isn’t just any old man dying. This is the Messiah dying. This is the only person who can be a substitute for you dying the death that you deserve and giving you his righteousness. You not only have to believe that he died; you have to believe that he is the Messiah so that you can receive credit for his righteousness, and he can take the sin and the punishment that you deserve. You have to believe that this is your only hope.
“[T]hese things took place that Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” So John’s showing that when they went to the first criminal and shattered his shins, and went to the second criminal and shattered his shins, and went to the third, Jesus, and did not shatter his shins, John’s showing us that that fulfills Scripture. That wasn’t just coincidence.
What Scriptures does that fulfill? Two really. First one is Psalm 34. Psalm 34 highlights God’s care of the righteous man. Psalm 34:19-20. Listen to this: “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.”
So this is a statement in the Psalms about God delivering the righteous man. And how does he deliver the righteous man or what proves that he delivers the righteous man? What proves that he delivers the righteous man is that he will see to it that not one of his bones is broken. Jesus dies on the cross. Shatter the first, shatter the second, no need to shatter the bones of Jesus; he’s already dead. God will deliver Jesus from his death. He is taking care of him, even when he dies.
Numbers 9:12. Numbers 9:12 is a prophecy about the Passover lamb, and remember Jesus died at a time when the Passover lambs were going to be slaughtered, on this day. Numbers 9:12 says this: “They shall leave none of it until the morning [speaking of the Passover lamb], nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it.”
So when you slaughtered the Passover lamb, you did not break its bones. Surprise, surprise, Jesus comes on the scene three years before, and John the Baptist calls out to the people who are around and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Passover lamb would not have his bones broken, and Jesus Christ would not have his bones broken because Jesus Christ is the one who would take the sin of the world.
Jesus will be cared for by the Father as the righteous man, and as the Lamb of the God he will not have his bones broken.
Verse 37. John again—which John has done, right? We looked at that last week. He’s showing us fulfillment of Scripture, fulfillment of Scripture, fulfillment of Scripture, fulfillment of Scripture. This is the one you need to trust. This is the only who can deal with your sin. You need to trust that this is the one.
Verse 37. John says this: “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’” John wants the part of the spear going through the heart of Jesus to resonate with the person who understands the Old Testament. This was also a prophecy. This was a prophecy of Zechariah 12:10—Zechariah 12:10, the prophecy about Judah, who didn’t look as bad as other nations, didn’t look as bad as Israel, but were still unfaithful to the Lord. This people Judah will one day mourn over their sin, and they will one day mourn over the one that they’ve pierced.
Listen, this prophecy hasn’t fully been fulfilled even yet today. The people of Israel, people of Judah still do not mourn over Jesus Christ whom they pierced. You can move the capital wherever you ant in Jerusalem. That doesn’t mean they respond to Christ. They still need to respond to the one whom they have pierced.
And this is a prophecy. Zechariah says that the ones who put him to death will mourn over him because they did this. And isn’t it interesting: They didn’t do the piercing. The Romans did. But John equates this prophecy and Jesus’ death to the fact that the Jewish people put him to death, because remember, they were the ones that pressured Pilate, pressured Rome to put him to death. So they’re guilty, as is Rome. John’s showing us that this is part of prophecy. They will weep bitterly over the one whom they’ve pierced.
And isn’t this what happens to every person who’s born again? You might grow up hearing the stories about Jesus and say, yeah, I know Jesus died for my sin. Yes, Jesus died for my sin. But then there’s a point in your life where you’re actually regenerated, where you know from the heart, Jesus died for my sin. He died for me. It’s a truth that resonates with your heart, not just your head.
I’ll never forget—and I’ve told you this before—the testimony of my mom who would have said that she was a Christian from the time she was a little girl. And then there was a time in 2008 when she heard a sermon on the death of Christ, and she told me after that, she said, I finally realized that Jesus died for me. And she was broken.
She knew that in her head for decades. She wasn’t born again. She wasn’t a believer. She knew facts about Jesus. She knew stories about Jesus. She sang songs about Jesus. She had Bibles. She went to church most of her life. But then when she was born again, one of the first things she realized was he died for me. I did that to him.
That’s what every believer understands. The cross is beautiful not just because Christ died for me, but because I’m the one who caused it. We’ve looked on him whom we have pierced. It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished.
John is showing Christ rejecters that they will one day mourn over the one that they’ve pierced. And they will one day. In the meantime the gospel has gone out to the world, and people even today are mourning over the death of Christ because they understand that he went there in their place. John wants us to know that this man, this Lamb of God, has died. And he wants us to know, he wants us to believe in why he died. He died in the place of sinners. He died for those who had previously rejected him. He died to forgive them, to save them.
Hebrews 9:22 says, “[W]ithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” If Jesus would have been really, really hurt and then came out and said, okay, I suffered enough; I’m outta here, you and I would still be in our sins. Because sin in front of a holy God is so serious that only death, only death will appease God. That’s how holy God is. And God, because he’s so holy, cannot look upon sin and just kind of wink at it or punish someone a little bit. It requires death. It requires blood.
So you see the holiness of God on display here, but you know the other thing you see here. You see the love of God displayed here, because God didn’t require you to die for your sins. He put forth his Son to die for our sin. So you see the holiness of God here, and you also see the love of God here. Both displayed on the cross. Because without the shedding of blood, there’s no forgiveness of sin, so God sends his own Son to shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. Believe that Jesus literally died because nothing else would pay the debt for your sin.
There’s a pastor who wrote these words. It’s fictional. He wrote as if Jesus were talking to the man that stabbed him in the heart. I want you to hear this. Jesus says this: “If you meet that poor wretch who thrust the spear into my side [so Jesus talking someone who might come across this Roman centurion], tell him there is another way, a better way, to come at my heart. If he will repent and look upon whom he has pierced and will mourn, I will cherish him in that very heart he has wounded.”
That’s not just the call to the Roman centurion; that’s the call to the world. Anybody who is not following Christ has ultimately rejected Christ, is rejecting Christ. And Christ is saying, there’s another way to come at my heart. You might come with anger and want me gone, out of your life; you don’t want my rules. But if you will come at my heart through repentance and mourning and looking at my death, I will cherish you in my heart.
This pastor goes on to write, as if he were writing the words of Jesus, “He shall find the blood that he shed an ample atonement for the sin of shedding it. And tell him from me, he will put me to more pain by refusing this offer of my blood than when he drew my blood forth.”
The worst thing to do—listen—the worst thing to do is not simply to live and reject Christ. The worst thing to do is to live and reject Christ and then to see him in front of you saying, I will take away your sin, and then to reject him. John is calling us, believe that he died for you. Believe that he died. Believe that he is the Lamb of God. Believe that he is the one who takes away the sin of the world. Trust your life to him.
2. Devotion to the Person of Christ
The second necessary response to the death of Christ. Don’t just believe in the death or trust in the death; the second necessary response to the death of Christ is devotion to the person of Christ. Don’t just believe and trust yourself to him; be devoted to him. Be devoted to him.
And we see this in this passage by looking at two men. And John is showing us their devotion to Jesus. If this is the Lamb of God who died for you, then you devote yourself to him. And John highlights two examples of this devotion.
Verse 38: “After these things”—what things? The death of Jesus. “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.”
Now this is fascinating. Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph from an area called Arimathea, somewhere in that region. People don’t know exactly where that might have been. But this man Joseph wasn’t just any old man that sauntered into Jerusalem. Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the body that found Jesus guilty earlier that morning. Joseph was part of that group, one of seventy-one men, the seventy plus the high priest. Joseph was one of them.
Luke tells us that he did not consent with the decision to convict Jesus. Evidently the whole council determined that Jesus would die, that he was guilty and they’d go to Rome and take their case so that they would kill Jesus, and Joseph, probably not outwardly but inwardly, did not agree with that decision. That’s what Luke tells us.
Mark tells us that he was respected and that he was looking for the kingdom of God, which seems to separate him from the rest of the Sanhedrin. They were so enamored with their own system and how great they were, but this one guy, Joseph, is looking for the kingdom of God. Where’s the Messiah? When’s he coming? I’m looking. I’m searching. I’ve read Isaiah 7. I’ve read Isaiah 9. Where is he? When’s he coming? That’s what Joseph was known for.
He’s respected, he’s looking for the kingdom of God, and Mark also tells us that he took courage to go to Pilate. Now why is that important? Because if you just read John’s account, you come across those words that he was a disciple of Jesus in verse 38, “but secretly for fear of the Jews.”
So if you just read John’s account, you’re tempted to think, oh, Joseph was some scared guy and wouldn’t commit himself to following Christ. I would have done differently if I were Joseph because I’m brave. No, Joseph is to be known for his courage, because Mark tells us that he took courage and went to Pilate.
Big deal, he went to Pilate. Yeah, big deal he went to Pilate! The rest of the Sanhedrin said that Jesus was guilty. And Joseph is going and asking, can I take his body and care for it in the proper way, basically saying, I’m willing to defile myself with this dead body before Passover because this body needs to be cared for. This man is different. And if that would have gotten around to the rest of the Sanhedrin, that would have caused some problems for Joseph.
But evidently at this point Joseph doesn’t care. He’s going to take care of the body of Jesus, and he’s going to go to Pilate separately on his own, and he’s going to defile himself before the Passover by touching a dead body, but he is committed to Jesus.
Matthew tells us that he was rich and that he owned his own tomb. So he went from being a secret disciple who was afraid of the rest of the Sanhedrin, a secret disciple who would not agree that they were doing the right thing, to a public disciple who gave his tomb for Jesus. You don’t think the Sanhedrin would have known where Jesus was buried? They knew where Jesus was buried. They knew in whose tomb he was buried. And they knew that it was one of their own who handled the dead body of Jesus and put him in his own tomb.
Most people who were crucified didn’t get taken to their own tomb. They got thrown into a heap of other dead bodies. But someone from the Sanhedrin comes to handle the dead body of Jesus, to take on defilement himself, and to put him in his own tomb.
And then John tells us about another man. Now Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us about Joseph of Arimathea. Nobody else tells us about Nicodemus. Only John does.
John says this (verse 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.” The emphasis in the original language is that Nicodemus came. Remember Nicodemus who came by night? Nicodemus shows up. Nicodemus came.
And Nicodemus doesn’t just kind of come in the night. Remember, they’re trying to get this burial done before the nighttime! So then what time of day did Nicodemus come? During the day. He came to Jesus in John 3 secretly by night. Hey, it wouldn’t be politically good for people to hear that I’m coming and asking you questions. Now, later on, Nicodemus comes by day. People can see Nicodemus.
And Nicodemus isn’t kind of tiptoeing through the bushes. He’s carrying seventy-five pounds of spices. Hard for him to hide. He comes, at some point meets with Joseph of Arimathea—and I wonder when it was that they connected that they both trusted in Jesus. I don’t know when it was. Maybe it was that moment, maybe it was earlier, maybe it was hours earlier in the morning. I don’t know, but they both trust Jesus at this point. And Nicodemus is coming with spices, myrrh and aloes. And he’s coming at the daytime, not at the nighttime.
And remember earlier in John 7 that we learned about Nicodemus trying to speak some sense into the Sanhedrin. So you’ve got Nicodemus in John 3, and Jesus kind of rebukes him—how are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? You need to be born again. You need a new heart. The way you’re living, you’re trusting in your own righteousness. This isn’t good for you. Don’t you know the Old Testament? Don’t you know that you need a new heart (Ezekiel 36)? Don’t you know that you need to be born again (Jeremiah 31)? You should know this stuff.
And then John 7. There’s a debate about the Messiah coming from Bethlehem or Galilee, and they thought, Jesus is from Galilee; he’s supposed to come from Bethlehem. He was born in Bethlehem. There’s this debate about Jesus. And Nicodemus says this in John 7: “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’” (John 7:50-51).
So Nicodemus is saying, guys, guys, guys, we should listen to what he says. You’re all making these accusations; give him a hearing. Listen to what he says. Do you think that made Nicodemus popular? No. Listen to what they said back to him in John 7: “They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? [That was an insult, by the way.] Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee’” (John 7:52). Who are you to be correcting us? What are you doing? Are you one of his disciples? Are you from Galilee too? Are you one of his people like Peter and the other fisherman? Are you from up there too?
So there’s this idea that Nicodemus is corrected by Jesus in John 3 and then kind of takes a little step in front of the Sanhedrin in John 7. And then here in John 19, Jesus is dead, and Nicodemus is going to be the one that anoints his body for burial, again, choosing to defile himself before the Passover. Because Jesus is more important than any traditions the Sanhedrin wanted him to keep.
Here he comes with his myrrh, a resin that had a pleasant aroma, and his aloes to keep the corpse from decay, and he and Joseph together put the spices, the myrrh and the aloes, in the linen and wrap the body of Jesus so that it doesn’t smell so bad. Do you remember earlier in John when Mary poured the perfume on the feet of Jesus, and Jesus said she’s anointing me for my burial? In Jesus’ estimation, that act from Mary was an act of worship. Well, if that was an act of worship, what is this? An act of worship. They’re caring for the body of Jesus.
These men, by the way, if you think about it, had more to lose than the other disciples. So the world rejects Galilean fisherman. So the world rejects a tax collector who follows Jesus. We’ve rejected him anyway; we’ve always hated him. But for a member or two members of the Sanhedrin to follow after Jesus? They would have received rejection for that, great rejection. If the things that other people were afraid of all throughout the Gospel of John came true, these men would have been put out of the synagogue. You’re going from the height of religious power to being excommunicated because you follow Jesus. That’s these two men, right here.
I want you to turn for a moment to Matthew 19. And again, this is a way to point to the devotion of Joseph and Nicodemus. Matthew 19. The story of the rich young ruler is told in the three synoptic gospels. The rich young ruler—again, thought to be a member of the Sanhedrin. Young, he was the up and comer in Israel. He was rich. He was probably very religious, because when you were very religious in that time you also became very wealthy and people looked at that as the favor of God on you.
So this guy comes up to Jesus, and he asks how to have eternal life. I’m not going to go through the whole story with you, but ultimately it ends with the fact that he walks away from Jesus because he was not willing to let go of his riches for the sake of following Christ. Verse 22, Matthew 19: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are the opposite to the rich young ruler. Joseph was rich. To follow Jesus would have cost you, in many cases, your wealth in that system. These men were willing to follow Jesus if it cost them.
Notice verse 23 of Matthew 19: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:23-26).
It doesn’t make sense that a rich young ruler would give up everything to follow Christ. It’s impossible. But with God, if God does a miracle in a heart, a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven. See Joseph and Nicodemus. God grants them regeneration and they’re willing to be mocked, desynagogued, lose wealth—whatever it may be, they’re going to take care of Jesus. This is amazing.
Verse 26: “But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first’” (Matthew 19:26-30).
This is these men. They are now willing to identify with Jesus above anybody else, and they will receive great reward for this.
Verse 40, back in John. Back in John 19, verse 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.” This is what was normally done when someone was buried. They would put these spices inside the linen and wrap it up. Verse 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.”
I love that, even just preaching through this at this time, you think of Mary and Joseph back when Jesus was born, wrapping him in linen cloths, caring for his little body. And then you see two men after he died, wrapping him in cloths, caring for his body that’s already dead, but they’re caring because they want to give him the appropriate burial.
It’s a sweet picture of the link between the coming of Christ in the manger and his death. You see people caring for him. People caring for him. People caring for him. Many people rejecting him, but a few people caring for him. This is the devotion of these two men.
It reminds me of what Jesus said when he says, “[W]hoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). It’s neat to think that as Joseph and Nicodemus were wrapping Jesus up, that they were part of the family of God at this point. These men are willing to be seen as disciples of Jesus, to go against the traditions that they enforced for so long, and to be dismissed from the leadership of Israel. They’re willing to go through that. I don’t know all that ultimately happened in their life, but they’re willing to do that.
And then again, verse 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.” This is fascinating. This is saying that where he was crucified there was a garden nearby and there was a tomb, so they—hey, we gotta get this done quick; there’s a tomb; let’s get him in there. It happened to be Joseph’s tomb; he was the one that came and asked for the body. It happened to be very close, so guess what they get to do? They get to have him buried before sundown. Great.
And it’s as if heaven shouts down, you think this is all coincidence. This is not coincidence that he was crucified where there happens to be an available tomb. You think that you’re getting the job done and getting him into the tomb before sundown—mission accomplished. Heaven is saying, mission accomplished. Prophecy is being fulfilled, because according to Isaiah 53:9, he was buried in a rich man’s tomb. This fulfilled prophecy that he was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb because Joseph of Arimathea, we learn from the other writers, was a rich man. None of this is coincidence.
J. C. Ryle says it appropriately: “Thus ended the most wonderful funeral the sun ever shone upon.” I mean, just imagine. Having the body of Jesus, the dead body of Jesus, the limp, the cold body of Jesus, and handling it, putting spices and linen cloths around it, knowing that it would cost you with people that you once had status with. You are going to be devoted to Jesus no matter what the cost. This is devotion.
We see these men advance in their devotion to Jesus throughout John’s gospel, specifically Nicodemus; we learn of Joseph later on, but we heard the other writers tell us about his life. They’re at first secret disciples, and then they follow him publicly. As Ryle says about Nicodemus, “He once hid himself at night, and now he is devoted to Jesus during the day.” It’s a great picture.
I don’t know if you’ve ever—you’re probably had this happen—been on the freeway and you pass a car that seems to not, you know, really be doing too well, maybe barely running. How in the world is that car still going on the freeway? And maybe an hour later or so, all of a sudden that car goes past you. What in the world happened? What got into that car?
That’s sanctification. We don’t all go at the same speed down the highway of the Christian life. I wonder, when Nicodemus back in John 3 came to Jesus at night and didn’t know all these things he was supposed to know, I wonder if walking away, if some of the disciples kind of rolled their eyes and kind of nudged Jesus—can you believe that guy? How does he not know that stuff? We know that stuff.
Here in John 19, see Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea go past the disciples. The disciples are nowhere to be found. Only John was at the cross. And Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea show devotion to Jesus Christ while the disciples are afraid and scattered. That happens. We go at different speeds. The Lord will see to it that we all reach the final destination, but we all go at different speeds. So a good call to be patient with one another.
I want as we finish, I want you—again, I told you devotion is the word of the day. John earlier is calling you to be devoted to Christ because he died for you. Here, he’s calling you to see the devotion of these two men. I would ask you: Assess your devotion to Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’ve never been devoted to him. Maybe you’ve never mourned over him, over the death that you deserve that he took. Maybe it’s repentance and belief and trusting in him for the first time.
Maybe as a believer there are things that are getting in the way of your devotion. Maybe it’s relationships. Maybe it’s other priorities. Maybe so many other things get your time, but devotion to Jesus gets kind of a little time. I’m just really busy right now. Or there’s some sin that you’re holding onto that’s keeping you from a complete devotion to Jesus.
Listen, if Jesus Christ as God in human flesh came to earth to live a life we couldn’t live and to die a death that we deserve, do we not owe him complete devotion? We do, so let’s examine ourselves. What is keeping me from complete devotion to Jesus Christ? I’ve got one life to live. I want to live it entirely for him.
Is it embarrassment? Is it too much of a focus on other pursuits? Is it a lack of time with him? Is it an unwillingness to let go of some sinful practice? Listen, does your devotion to Jesus suffer because you focus more on the lives of other Christians and their shortcomings than you do your own? What gets in the way of your complete devotion to Jesus?
Devotion is the word of the day. He died for us; trust him. The Lord gave us two men to see their devotion to Jesus. It’s a great picture.
I want to end with this. Look how gracious Jesus is. Look how gracious Jesus is. Jesus could have consigned Nicodemus to eternal damnation just years earlier when he first met him. You trust in your own righteousness. How dare you mislead the people of Israel? You are condemned to eternal damnation. Jesus did not do that.
Jesus could have condemned the entire Sanhedrin three years earlier, of which Joseph of Arimathea was a part. But he didn’t do that.
Jesus could have condemned the disciples, because in a sense when he needed them the most, when he was on the cross and they should have been committed to him, the suffering servant, they fled. He could have condemned them. But we’ll see later on in John 21, Jesus is a restoring God.
None of these men lived perfectly. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the disciples—none of them. And Jesus has been gracious to all of them. And while there’s grace for a past lack of commitment to Jesus, complete devotion to Christ is the only logical response to his death for us.
I want to finish by having you think about Mary and her devotion. Joseph at the manger and his devotion. The magi later on, away from the manger, at the home of little Jesus, and their devotion to Jesus. John at the cross, his devotion. Mary at the cross, her devotion. The other three ladies at the cross, their devotion. Joseph of Arimathea, his devotion to take Jesus off the cross, to anoint him, and to bury him. Nicodemus and his devotion. All displayed devotion to Jesus.
When you examine the greatness of the incarnation, that Jesus came, lived, died, this is the response from us to him. Devotion to Jesus. I think the writer of one particular Christmas carol said it well. He unites the incarnation—the birth of Jesus—and the death of Jesus. And the response? Haste, haste to bring him laud. Quick, quick, bring him praise. Hail, hail the Word made flesh. Let me read those lines to you.
What Child is this, who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
And then this verse, same song
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through,
The cross he bore for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
As we said last week, we need that baby in the manger to die for us. And he did. The only response is quick, bring him praise. Give him your life. Hail, hail, the Word made flesh, because the Word made flesh reconciled us to God in his fleshly body of death. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, only sincere and complete devotion is what we owe you. Lord, forgive us when we sin, when we fall short of this devotion to you. Motivate us to love you more, praise you more. We thank you that we are secure in your love, but draw out from us more and more worship, more and more love, more and more obedience.
Father, give us encouragement from this text. Give us encouragement that while sometimes weak, we can be strong. While sometimes scared, we can take courage. Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for the fact that you completely died for us; you paid our penalty in full. Lord, preach to our hearts even this week, to make you our greatest treasure, our greatest joy, and that you would receive our greatest devotion above anything else. We pray this in your name. Amen.
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