Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
When John 19 tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, it does not focus on the details of his torture. Nor does it interpret the meaning of his death. Instead, it quietly emphasizes four moments of revelation in the story.
First, Pilate put a sign on Jesus’ cross that said, “King of the Jews”. The chief priests objected, “Don’t write ‘King of the Jews’–write that he said he was king of the Jews.” Pilate dismissed them, saying, “What I have written, I have written.” For John, the sign on the cross was not just a Pilate-sign, it was a God-sign because it stated in three languages of the Roman Empire that the man being crucified was king.
As the soldiers shared out Jesus’ clothes, and as they cast lots for his cloak instead of ripping it into equal pieces, John saw another revelation. In his gospel, he quoted Psalm 22:
They divided my clothes among them,
and cast lots for my garment (John 19:24, quoting Psalm 22:18).
For John, the crucifixion was not merely an unhappy ending, perpetrated by Pilate at the insistence of the Jews. It was part of a greater story that started in the Old Testament and continued on crucifixion day, even as the Roman soldiers distributed Jesus’ last possessions.
The third revelation John noted followed Jesus’ complaint on the cross, “I am thirsty.” The watchers responded by using a sponge on a stick to give him wine vinegar. John quotes Psalm 69 which says: “They gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:21). There it is again: the story of Jesus’ torture is not a random event, it is part of a larger narrative predicted long ago, working itself out unexpectedly in Roman times.
Earlier in John’s gospel, John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God. One of the rules for sacrificing a passover lamb was “Don’t break any bones” (Ex. 12:46).
On crucifixion afternoon, the Jews asked the soldiers to break the legs of the crucified, to hasten their death so the bodies could be dealt with before the Passover holiday started that evening. When the soldiers saw that Jesus was already dead, instead of breaking his bones, one of them speared his side, releasing a flow of blood and water. John describes this moment of revelation by quoting the Old Testament again, “Not one of his bones will be broken” (Ps 34:20), and “They will look on the one they have pierced” (Zech 12:10). It was important to John that the Jesus, the new Passover lamb, was killed without breaking his bones.
With Jesus dead and pierced, the Romans let some compassionate Jews bury him in a borrowed tomb.
Jesus, John’s gospel invites us to believe that behind the story of your unjust and untimely death, God was telling a different story. Pilate’s cynical sign, “King of the Jews” was God’s sign that he was preparing a kingdom for you, Jesus. As the soldiers divided your clothes and the watchers gave you vinegar and your bones were not broken, we hear echoes of God’s hidden story. In your death as a passover lamb, God was preparing a passover feast for Jews and Romans and Greeks–for the whole world. Teach us to be welcome guests in the passover meal you serve.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.