Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Word of Perseverance

John 19:28-33

Declaring the End of Dying.
Administrating the End of Dying
Authenticating the End of Dying

In saving us from sin through his dying on the cross, Jesus persevered right to the end so, despite the administrative efficiency of officials keen to get everything tidied away by the beginning of the Sabbath and the professional skill of the soldiers, the work of salvation was finished when Jesus knew it was and said it was.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Authenticating the End of Dying

John 19:32-33

32 • So the soldiers came and broke the legs
of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.

33 • But when they came to Jesus
and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs.

34 • But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear,
and at once there came out blood and water.

If the Jewish authorities had had as it were to fill in a form to get the crucifixions brought to an abrupt end, it was the soldiers who had to sign the death certificate. The preparations to bring about the end of the executions were made to protect the Sabbath day but the authentication of death was made with the view to the preservation of life. If one of these prisoners lived, then the soldiers' own lives would be forfeit so we can imagine how meticulous they were to make sure that this crucifixion really was finished.

Elsewhere in the Empire, crucifixions would last for days as the deterrent value of a long slow lingering death was brought home to all who witnessed it but here the most important thing was to get the chief prisoner dead and buried so everything would be neatly and tidily cleared up and by the next day there would be no evidence that any of these men had ever lived. The neat and tidy finish was ruled out by the inconvenient fact that one of the prisoners was already dead.

The purpose of breaking the legs was to induce swift asphyxiation as the arms would
very quickly fail to pull the body up by themselves. To take the man on the centre cross down was to risk his reviving but there was no point in breaking the legs of one already dead. It must be proved that he was dead in spite of their previous precautions to keep the prisoners dying for as long as possible.

Very few doctors see traumatic death as frequently as soldiers in the Roman army did. These soldiers knew very well that dead bodies don't bleed so a spear was thrust into the side of Jesus with no expectation of any sign of life. An unnecessary coup de grĂ¢ce, it might seem, but the continued life of the soldier was dependant on Jesus being dead. The stream of 'blood and water' that issued out of the wound showed that major disruption of the internal organs had taken place and that fluids had already pooled and separated within the cavities. This body was that of a man who had been dead for some time.

Administrating the End of Dying

John 19:30b-31

• and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

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.

Lest anyone should accuse the Jewish Authorities of euthanasia, they had a good religious excuse for bringing the crucifixion to an end in the onset of the Sabbath and a particularly cruel way of shortening the agony by breaking a prisoner's legs. Neither the crucifixion nor the leg-breaking were Jewish inventions of course and responsibility for the execution of Jesus ought always be seen as shared between all parties.

Cooperation between the Jewish council and the Roman procurator wasn't guaranteed of course so all the boxes on the form had to be ticked and the form rubber-stamped. It would have been no good just getting the execution over by leg-breaking to cause asphyxiation if the dead bodies had then been left to hang on their crosses until the Sabbath was over.

Asking for the crucifixion to be brought to an end and seeing it carried through was a perfectly normal use of a Friday, when they would always suspend some of their normal activities to prepare for the Sabbath. The Sabbath during the feast of Unleavened Bread required few if any extra preparations but just as a vigorous search would have taken place to make sure their houses had no yeast, no sight of this death should be allowed to leaven their Sabbath day.

This scheme to bring the dying of Christ to an untimely end was thwarted by his having died already. There would not be a tincture of doubt among the believers that men had brought his sacrifice of himself to an premature end. By giving up his spirit Jesus showed that the work was completed.

Truly, it is finished!