John Lesson 47 - Saturday's Sorrow
Death always comes too swiftly. And no matter how much time we thought we had with that loved one, there's always so much left unsaid. In this message, Stephen introduces us to two men who were haunted by their failure to publicly acknowledge Jesus Christ before He died. Their story will challenge us to profess our love for Christ and for each other now so that we will have no regrets later.
I would like to invite your attention to the Gsopel/good news as recorded by John, chapter 19.
On the way to school, my three children and I got into a deep discussion. It started out with missing certain people who were now in heaven - their granpa Gladney was mentioned. One of my kids knew somebody in school who had never even met any of his grandparents on either side - they marveled a while a how bad that would be. Then one of my kids asked me, "Dad, were you an obedient child growing up?" This had to be a trick question! If I said, "No son, I was a rotten kid" - I'd be giving him license to sin. If I said "I sure was an obedient child growing up!" . . . they could check later with grandma and find out I lied. Frankly, I didn't know how that question related to death - and while I was sitting there driving, weighing my answer so that I neither lied nor gave him freedom to disobey, he chimed in, "Becuase, Daddy we wouldn't have to worry about you dying if you were obedient, cause the Bible says, "Honor thy father and mother, so shall thy days be prolonged on the earth." If I die young I'm going to have some explaining to do later . . . you know it's tough having a preacher for a father, but it's a lot tougher having a preacher for a son.
So I changed the subject.
My kids are learning what we've already learned - life doesn't last . . . death is a scheduled event in every one of our calendars - we just haven't been told the date, or the time.
I have observed, not only in my extended family but also in my spiritual family, that death is always something of a surprise - it doesn't matter how old or how sick - it's invasion comes all too swiftly; and no matter how much time you thought you had with that loved one, there are always things left undone, unsaid. . .you will never be completely prepared for someone's death.
Perhaps the greatest lingering pain related to death are the haunting memories of love unspoken and undone.
I read about a man - a father who, with irritation brushed his young son away from him; he was tired, overworked and hungry - his son had come into the living room to deliver 50 birthday kisses only to be told to go play . . . he did and an hour later, while riding his bicycle, he was struck by a car and killed.
One writer wrote these powerful words, "We so often leave our tributes until people are dead. But you must know that one flower in life is worth all the wreaths in the world in death; one word of love and praise and thanks in life is worth all the eulogies in the world, when life is gone."
This morning, I'm going to introduce to you two men. Two men, haunted by their failure to publicly acknowledge Jesus Christ . . . until Christ hung dead, on the cross.
On a practical level their story should challenge us to profess our love for each other and most importantly, to acknowledge and profess our love and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Before we meet these men, let's first work our way from the site of the crucifixion on down to the garden where two men have made funeral arrangments.
Look with me in the Gospel by John at chapter 19:31. (There are just a few more things I want you to see before we attend the funeral) The Jews therefore, becuase it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day,) - You may remember from our former study my analysis that Christ was crucified on Thursday - this high Sabbath or special Passover Sabbath fell on Friday, and the normal Saturday/Sabbath was the next day. This would allow for Christ to be in the grave for a portion of three days, and three nights.
32. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with him; 33. But coming
to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.
Pilate has issued the orders - by breaking the legs of the condemened, they would slip off the seddulum (seat) and be unable to push themselves up to gasp another breath of air. Suffocation would occur and the victim would die.
Frankly, this was unlike the normal Roman crucifixion. Normally the victim was left alone to slowly die - some lived for weeks; suffering under the heat of the day of the cold at night; tortured by thrist and hunger.
Many times the victims were not even buried; they were simlpy taken down from the cross and left for wild animals - it's likely that the hill we call Calvary was littered with bones.
The Jews were different - their own laws record, as stated in Dueteronomy 21, "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 upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day."
Becuase of this command, the Sanhedrin - the supreme court of Israel - actually made available a grave for those who had suffered the death penalty and had nowhere to be buried.
So the orders are given - break their legs . . . what's interesting is that the soldiers take matters into their own hands and treat Jesus in a way that was incredibly exceptional. Verse 32 says they broke the legs of the two criminals BUT v. 33 coming to Jesus when they saw he was dead, they did not break His legs - the point is, it wasn't their duty to determine whether or not the men were dead - they were'nt doctors, they were soldiers.
But what did these soldiers do? The details aren't given - but we can only surmise that they watched him for breathing - took note of his colour - they looked at each other and said, "He's already dead." Then, perhaps one of the soldiers said, "Let's make sure and verse 43. but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there
came out blood and water.
A Roman spear was thrust, literally, into the heart of Christ - if he wasn't dead before, now he was.
And just in case, there would be any wondering why these hardened Roman soldiers would disobey direct orders from their commander in chief - John records why Jesus was pierced instead of crushed.
v. 36. For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken."
What's so important about not having any broken bones? Becuase the passover lamb, killed and eaten by the Jews as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage, was not to be broken apart. No bones were to be broken, nor was the body of the lamb to be divided in any way.
Jesus Christ was THE Passover Lamb - He would be consumed as the final sacrifice - that would once for all deliver His people from bondage to sin. And like all the other lambs before Him, He also would not experience the breaking of any bones!
It was another way of picturing Him as The Lamb!
V. 37. And again another Scriputure says, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced." In other words, one day Christ will be recognized and vindicated as the Sovereign
Medical accounts talk of ruptured heart - Under incredible pressure, both physical and emotional, the heart can rupture. When that happens, the blood of the heart mingles with the fluid of the pericardium which surrounds the heart. The spear of the soldier pierced the pericardium and the blood and water issued forth. Imagine, in the literal sense of the physical term, none of His bones were broken, but His heart was.
Now when John was writing this Gospel, there was already a heresy called gnosticism that said that Jesus didn't have a real body of flesh and blood and that he wasn't really a man. John's graphic account of the death of Christ, including a reference to real water and real blood issuing forth was an open slam - Jesus was a real man with a real body.
God had come, literally in the flesh!
And furthermore, John makes it very clear that Jesus was dead. Reports were also circulating and are still believed by some today that Jesus didn't really die - it's called the swoon theory - Jesus merely passed out - his bodily functions reduced to a bare minimum - he was taken and buried and in the cool of the tomb he revived. There was no death, hence there was no resurrection.
John the Apostle says, "Read my lips - Jesus died!" Look at verse 35. And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true (genuine); and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.
Believe what? John's compelling argument is so there would be no doubt that Jesus was God in literal flesh and that Jesus experienced literal death.
If not - our faith is in vain - Oh yes there must be a literal, physical resurrection, but there must also be a literal, physical death.
Now, in a highly unusual turn of events, we're introduced to the first of two men.
The first man is Joseph. v. 38. And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. 39. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by
night bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.
Joseph and Nicodemus - two men we don't know much about; but we do know they were rich, influential, prominent, and both were members of the Sanhedrin.
Every time Nicodemus is mentioned by John, he refers to the fact that Nicodemus was the one who came to him by night. Afraid of being seen, yet a believer?!
Joseph is called by Mark's gospel, "An honorable counselr or who also waited for the kingdom of God." Luke calls him a good and righteous man." Matthew calls him a disciple of Jesus. Luke even informs us that Joseph "had not consented to the counsel and deed of them who had condemned Jesus."
One of the most insightful verses that no doubt refers to Joseph, Nicodemus and others is found in John 12:42. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but becuase of the Pharisees they were not confessing him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. 43. For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
Listen, Peter wasn't the only one denying Jesus hours before. Here are two members of the Sanhedrin, and apparently others - silent!
They would sit in their council seats and watch an innocent man - the God/man - be tried on trumped up charges and ultimately crucified.
They say nothing - but listen - this may shock you a little, but I think they should have remained silent! Why? Becuase they weren't willing to back up with their lives whatever they might have said with their lips.
They lived for the approval of men - they lived for applause on earth - don't ever expect to receive the applause of heaven as long as earth's applause is more important - you can't have both!!
I came home from meetings late one evening this past week - my wife watching the grammy's - she had wanted to see some Christian artist sing who supposedly was going to - she had wanted to hear what he had to say - and sing since milions of people would hear a potential testimony for the Lord. We never did hear him. When I walked in, they were introducing a singing group and they had just come on stage to sing their hit song. . .a pop love song - a song that was up for nomination. In the space of 2 minutes these guys proceeded to harmonize their way through unbelievably vulgar lyrics. You say, why didn't you turn it off - that's what my wife said, but I wanted to talk back to it for a minute. I like doing that - some of my best sermons have been delievered to something that can't hear me or talk back. "Honey, can you believe that. . ." "Did you hear that?" "Listen to that perversion." I was sounding just like my Father! Halfway through their number I turned it off in disgust and went to the kitchen for a late night snack - something good for me, something glazed and sells by the dozen. My curiosity was peaked though, so after a couple of minutes I went over and turned the television back on - these guys won the grammy - for that filthy song! They come strutting up on stage, and would you believe, the first man to speak says, "I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for getting us here" and another man chimes in, "Thank you Jesus!" You ever prayed for a lightning strike?"
If they really wanted to do the Lord a service they would never have mentioned His name...never associated that filthy son with His holy name. That goes for anyone here who's life contradicts your lips.
Some of you are living in such a way that it would be best if you kept quiet - and don't tell anybody where you go to church.
Here's the story of two men who's belief in Christ was the world's best kept secret - and rightly so! But now something astounding happens.
Return to John 19.
As cowardly as these men were earlier, their cowardice has turned into courage. You need to recognize that Joseph and Nicodemus had planned their activies down to the last detail. It would have taken time to locate and purchase nearly 100 pounds of costly spices during the Passover. And who would carry this heavy weight to the grave; and you notice that Joseph is waiting for the right moment to ask Pilate for permission to take the body. Mark records with these words, "And Joseph gathered up courage and went in before Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus."
They had also carefully calculated the costs. Whenever you publicly declare allegiance to Christ there is a cost - somewhere, somehow.
Let me make some observations outside this text - follow me for a moment and I'll show you why it took great courage:
First - They were willing to invite scorn and rejection - make no mistake, as soon as the body of Jesus is requested from Pilate, the religous world would be scandalized - turned on it's ear - this is front page news - "Members of Sanhedrin Side with Criminal" "Turncoats in the Supreme Court"
The public feelings of shock would have turned to a mixture of anger and disbelief as Joseph and Nicodemus give Jesus a King's burial. Look at verse 39. And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40. And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
These spices represented a man's fortune - you remember Mary pouring a liquid form of similar spices from a jar onto the Savior's feet - Judas complained having estimated that it was worth an entire years wages. Well Judas should have been here to estimate the price of this. Not some small jar, but nearly 100 pounds. This could very well be his life's savings - imagine the foolishness of spending costly spices on a condemned madman - a false Messiah - Nicodemus has gone crazy! Nicodemus - you're a fool
When you win the applause of heaven, you lose the applause of earth!
Now in Palestine, bodies were buried in natural caves or tombs that were carved out of he limestone. Niches or shelves were prepared where the bodies could be laid. The tomb was usually a family tomb, and the shelves could be reused as necessary. The bones of the previous relative would simply be collected and placed in a bone-box or "ossuary," that would remain in the tomb.
Now Matthew tells us that the tomb belonged to Joseph. It was brand new - some conjecture that Joseph had it hastily carved out for Jesus alone. . .we don't knowfor sure.
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. 42. Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, becuase the
tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Let me make a second observation. These men were also willing, not only to experience ridicule and scorn, they were willing to experience defilement. When these two men touched Christ's dead body, they were both immediately unclean. They were ceremonially defiled. The Law would require a day of seperation and cleansing. Do you know what this means - they would miss the Passover meal scheduled for the high Sabbath. . .the meal that every Jew considered a sacred duty and honor. The greatest festival in Jewish culture would be missed - they would be unable to kill the lamb and with their families, eat the lamb together as a remembrance of past deliverance.
But just ask Nicodemus, Joseph and all the other Christians reading this Gospel during the first century. . .tell them - you have missed the Passover celebration - you have no lamb to remind you of past deliverance - tell them and they will tell you, "What difference does it make - we have found future deliverance. We have discovered the Lamb of God."
You consider us defiled?! God's Son has cleansed us from every sin!
Finally, and most incredible to me as I studied these men - They were willing to unite with a ruined cause.
Now hold on! You and I know what's going to happen in three days - they don't.
We know all about Sunday's resurrection - they only know about a fresh tomb and a weekend of tears, confusion and guilt.
We're Sunday's children - they're living through Saturday's sorrow.
We have united with Him in His resurrection -
They have united with Him in His tomb.
Jesus is dead! And for all they know - He will remain dead!
The surprise later among the disciples makes it clear that Nicodemus and Joseph believed they would never see Jesus alive again - but it's in that context that they openly confess their love for Him - incredible!
Can you see these men, washing the blood caked body of Jesus; quietly they work together, just the two of them in the quiet of that limestone tomb. They mix spices into the fold of the linen strips and they wind them around Jesus' body, turning his body from side to side. Then they reach his neck - they wash His face, perhaps once more; and they gently comb out his matted hair - I imagine hot tears fell onto the saviors face and blotted on the linen graveclothes. Perhaps they stopped periodically to embrace one another and sob.
Each man carried a heavy burden of guilt and graveyards always magnify guilt.
One man wrote these powerful words: It should be remembered they buried a dead Christ. They did not know the Lord would rise again. As far as they knew they had lost their opportunity of falling at His feet to confess their love to Him. Ashamed of former failures, they now broadcast to the nation that they cared enough to do for Jesus something which even the disciples had not thought of doing. They would see to His funeral. . .they would bury Him like a King!
In order for us to understand the power of this moment and the application of this paragraph we have to recognize the tragedy of missed opportunity!
You may never graduate from high school or college; you may never live to see your children grow up you may never hold a grandchild; you may never change neighborhoods or switch careers; and the testimony that you have right now is may be only testimony you will ever have.
The witness that you are right now, in your world, may be all you will ever be.
I don't believe for a moment that Nicodemus and Joseph could have imagined 2 weeks earlier that Jesus would be dead - just hours earlier the nation was singing "Hosana" to Him. . .time moved so quickly - perhaps they were thinking of declaring their loyalty - maybe that very weekend. . .but now, He's dead."
Can you sense the finality in the words of John 19:42. Therefore on
account of the Jewish day of preparation, becuase the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (period) It's over. Opportunity lost!
What are you counting on . . . what are you waiting for?
If Joseph and Nicodemus have anythng to teach us it would be:
1) Acknowledge Jesus Christ today - it may be the only day you have.
2) Keep short accounts with those you love. Sir, when's the last time you told your wife or children you loved them? When's the last time your parents heard words like that, if ever?
Some, quite practically, need to make some phone calls today
3) Finally, any courage invested in introducing your world to Christ, will never be wasted, nor regretted.
We never hear of Joseph and Nicodemus again. The Epistles are silent; the Book of Acts silent. But John's story of their lives would become an incredible encouragement to Christians then and now, all around the world who are struggling with the same issues.
Even if you've failed to speak for Him in the past - it's not yet too late to speak for Him now . . . while you still have breath and life.
Live for Him today!
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