Even with all the preparation on John’s part, preparing his readers for the crucifixion, it still arrives suddenly. You are left wondering and hoping “Is he going to get out of this?” Jesus doesn’t get out of the crucifixion. Chapter 19 is the last story of the last hours of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion.
John does an excellent job capturing his readers and pointing them to the fulfillment of prophecy. There are too many things to be chalked up as coincidental. Conspiracy theorists may conspire of cover-ups, but you cannot deny the evidence compiled in John’s Gospel alone.
On a different note, but regarding the crucifixion, Pope Benedict has written a new book, and in it he briefly describes who is responsible for the death of Christ. He places the blame squarely on all of our shoulders. It wasn’t the Jews alone that crucified Christ, but the crowd who shouted for the release of Barabbas, not Jesus. It was the Roman soldiers who carried out the punishment and built the cross that held him as well. And above all, it was all of our sin. The Pope only affirms what I viewed anyways. But it was a helpful reminder that my place in the story is among many who turned on Christ and let him die on the cross.
Something new jumped out to me in this all-too familiar story. I never noticed what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had in common. They both were, in a way, ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. It’s speculation on my part for both. But Joseph feared the Jewish leaders (39) and Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (I suppose so he wouldn’t be seen by fellow Jewish leaders). I don’t know the implications here, I’m just saying it jumped out to me that these two men would take it upon themselves to bury Jesus. Was his death what needed to happen to overcome their concerns? Was the gruesome nature of the previous hours enough to bring about true conviction in Christ? I don’t know the motivation; all we see is a dramatic change from borderline ashamed private following to an honorable public burial. They both honored Jesus by following the burial customs of the day. They ensured the body of Christ was given full respect.
Perhaps this is the spiritual journey we join together in pursuing. We go from infants in the faith, not so certain about who Jesus is, to full-fledged devotion where we serve Christ in the most honoring of ways. John doesn’t unpack their spiritual journey, he merely shows an inquisitive Nicodemus who later discovers what it means to truly be born again (John 3).
Another thought from the text regards the three languages written on the cross. For some reason, I don’t remember this, or I thought it was just one. But John’s gospel records the cross having a sign that stated “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews” in three languages; Aramaic, Latin and Greek. I am uncertain of the importance of this. Matthew, Mark and Luke fail to mention that it is written in three languages. Why does John feel it necessary to add that to the story? Something inclines me to think that it’s John’s way of drawing our attention to the comprehensive and inclusive nature of the gospel. The sign said “King of the Jews”, but it was written for everybody to read. Why? What Pilate may have meant for harm, God used for his glory. Jesus of Nazareth would prove to not only be king of the Jews, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today, that is written in hundreds of languages (maybe thousands, I don’t know) and it increases in number each day.
Today’s text has me eagerly waiting for Easter Sunday. It also has me thinking about a song that I’m in love right now, “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher. I love the line in it, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave!”
Our hope today is simply this: Jesus dies on Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
My Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so thankful that each time I return to the crucifixion story you open my eyes to more of your incomprehensible grace and love. I may spend the rest of my days dwelling on your Word and I will only scratch the surface of understanding the depth of your love. You revealed that love for the world through the death of your Son. I praise and thank you for the Good News that Christ is Risen, that the Gospel of John doesn’t stop at Chapter 19. There is more to the story, of Christ conquering death and bringing salvation for all. I, Father, am on a journey like Joseph and Nicodemus. May I be willing to honor Christ with my life, just as they did with theirs. Thank you for the victory of Jesus. We all put Jesus on the cross, and You raised him from the dead. Thank you that you have made the spoils of Jesus’ victory over death available to his persecutors. For That I praise you. May all glory and honor be given to you. Amen.
Jordan Ickes, Minister of Etna Green Church of Christ.