John 19:31-35 “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true.”
Over Fourteen hundred years earlier God had given Moses instructions about how Passover lambs were to be chosen and treated. They had to be year old males in the prime of their lives, without blemish. As the lambs were sacrificed their bodies must be kept intact. No bones were to be broken. They were to be perfect in every way. God was accepting these animals in place of the lives of Israel’s first-born sons. For such an exchange he was not satisfied with second-rate, crippled animals. He demanded the best.
On this Passover, Jesus himself was the sacrificial lamb. He offered himself in the prime of life in exchange for all Israel, and all people. After all the abuse his body had taken over the past 24 hours, the point of his legs not being broken could easily be lost on us. But God was making a statement here: his Son is the perfect Passover Lamb. His bones remained intact. He remained fully qualified to give his life in exchange for ours, the perfect sacrifice for sin.
The soldiers then looked for another way to be sure of his death. The point of the spear was likely pressed against his body just below the rib cage. They thrust up into his chest and through his heart. The sudden flow of blood and water would be consistent with the spear piercing first the pericardium, the sack around the heart, and then the heart itself. Thus the last blood Jesus shed for us flowed directly from his very heart.
For those who witnessed this, this piercing was the final blow. If there had been any hope that Jesus had not died, but merely passed out on the cross, it was now gone. The spear removed all doubt that Jesus was dead.
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for us and for our world. He did not come to be merely a great moral example or teacher. He came to give his life as a ransom for many. Those are his own words. The wages of our sins is death, and the blood and water flowing from his side confirmed his death. He is perfect for us here, as he was in life.
With this perfect sacrifice comes this perfect assurance: “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”
We may think that it is a modern thing to question the accuracy of the gospels. Such challenges, however, stretch all the way back to the time of the New Testament. John is the only gospel writer who includes these details about the crucifixion. It is likely that he was combating a popular heresy of his time. Some denied Jesus ever had a genuine human body. They claimed he only appeared to be human. Thus they denied that he actually died. They certainly didn’t believe he had to die as some sort of payment for our sins.
Similar denials gnaw at the very foundations of Christian faith. There is nothing more important for us to know or believe than Jesus’ historical death and resurrection. This greatest of all miracles isn’t an incidental idea hanging onto the fringes of Christian belief. It is the centerpiece, the event of human history upon which the entire Christian faith is based.
What do we have to defeat our doubts in an age that wants to reduce Christianity to a list of pious platitudes teaching us to be nice to other people? God has given us eye witnesses. The twelve disciples were not philosophers speculating about the ultimate meaning of life. They were common people like this fisherman named John. They gave eyewitness testimony of events they had seen with their own eyes. There is nothing so profound about the breaking of legs or the blood flowing from a pierced heart that it escapes the eyes of ordinary people. Roman soldiers, and faithful women, and a lone disciple saw it happen. They told others and wrote it down on paper so that you and I could see it happen, too.
Can a dead man still love you? Maybe we find it unsettling to realize that, in Jesus’ death, God has died. But even in death this God is infinitely powerful. Even in death, his love for you continues unimpaired. He was perfect for you in life and in death, as he is in his new life beyond the grave.