The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
The Spirit of God has been at great pains to bring before us a number of most interesting and instructive details not only concerning the sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus when He took our place upon the cross to make expiation for our iniquities, but of the events that took place afterward in connection with His burial.
First we read of what happened while His body was still upon the cross. The Jews, we are told, because it was the Sabbath could not let the body remain there. It was a high day in connection with the Passover celebration, and the Jews besought Pilate that in order to hasten the death of the three their legs might be broken. In Deuteronomy we read, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shaft in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (21:22-23).
Here we have a peculiar evidence of the perversity of the human heart. The very men who had shown their utter indifference to the One who came to be the Savior of sinners, those who, in fact, had not only been indifferent to Him but had hated Him, and who had insisted upon His crucifixion, were now very punctilious to carry out the letter of the law. They did not realize that their rejection of Jesus was far worse than leaving His body upon the cross on the Sabbath. They had already committed the greatest crime anyone could commit. In the sight of God there is nothing worse than rejecting His Son.
How many there are today who pride themselves on their loyalty and responsibility, who are guilty of this most terrible of all sins. You remember the Lord Jesus Christ said of the Holy Spirit, “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9). That is the sin of all sins, the sin that will send men down to eternal perdition if it is not repented of. In the third chapter of John we read, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:18). Observe, it does not say he is condemned because he is a drunkard, because he is a thief, because he is immoral. These things are wicked in God’s sight, but for all of these Christ died on Calvary’s cross. He who turns to God in repentance and trusts that blessed Savior for cleansing from every stain stands cleared of every charge, but the sin that will never be forgiven is the final rejection of the Savior whom God has provided.
Here were men rejecting that Savior and yet so careful about carrying out the letter of the law which said no body was to hang upon the tree overnight. So they went to Pilate and besought him to hasten the death of these poor victims that their legs might be broken. The Roman soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves, one on either side of the Lord. But when they came to Jesus, though He had been there but a few hours—and we are told that sometimes men hung suspended as much as three or four days before they died—they were amazed to find Him already dead. But as if to make it doubly sure, one of the soldiers pierced the side of the blessed Christ of God, and blood and water flowed forth, giving evidence that He had pierced the heart-sac itself.
John took special note of that. He said, “Forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:34-35). That is, John would have us understand very definitely that he knew the Son of God was already dead before the Roman spear point was inserted into the heart. Then the amazing thing was that blood and lymph flowed forth freely from the body of the dead Man. Physicians say it would seem to indicate that Jesus died of a broken heart, but He died when He dismissed His own spirit to the Father. So it would be incorrect to say that a broken heart was the cause of His death, but Scripture tells us that He died with a broken heart. In Psalm 69:20 He says, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness.”
Oh, dear unsaved friend, if you are reading these words today, it was because of your sins and mine that the heart of the Son of God broke in agony as He endured the wrath of God that we so richly deserved. And that blood and water that flowed from His side, John draws special attention to, because it has a typical meaning. Long years afterward, when John himself was an old man, the memory of that scene was before him. He wrote, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record… and these three [agree in] one” (1 John 5:6-7).
What is involved typically in the water and the blood coming from the side of the Lord Jesus Christ? It suggests two different aspects of our cleansing. When a poor sinner stained with guilt and polluted by sin, utterly unfit for God, has need for judicial cleansing the Word tells me, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The blood of Jesus cleanses us judicially. That is, it frees us from every charge that could ever be brought against us.
Once we stood in condemnation,
Waiting thus the sinner’s doom.
Christ in death hath wrought salvation,
God hath raised Him from the tomb.
Now we see in His acceptance
But the measure of our own,
He who lay beneath our sentence,
Seated high upon the throne.
If you are a Christian, think back to those hours when you were troubled about your sins. You realized your guilt, you felt how unclean, how unholy you were, how unfit for the presence of God. But oh, the joy that came to you when you learned that the precious blood would wash you from every stain. You remember when your heart saw the meaning of those words,
Lord, through the blood of the Lamb that was slain,
Cleansing for me, cleansing for me;
From all the guilt of my sin now I claim,
Cleansing from Thee, cleansing from Thee!
And then when you trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, you knew on the authority of the Word of God that all your sins were put away, and you stood perfect and clear before God as though you had never sinned. This is what it means to be cleansed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember it is written, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls” (Lev. 17:11). And so the Lord Jesus, by shedding His precious blood, giving up His holy, spotless life for us, bearing our judgment, has made full expiation for iniquity.
Oh, why was He there as the Bearer of sin,
If on Jesus thy guilt was not laid?
Oh, why from His side flowed the sin-cleansing stream,
If His dying thy debt has not paid?
This is the very heart of the gospel, deliverance through His blood from every charge that could be brought against us.
Now, that is one aspect of our cleansing. But there is another. If we are going to have fellowship with God, there must not only be judicial cleansing, there must be practical cleansing. It will never do to point back to the cross and say, “There at the cross my sins were put away,” if I am daily living in sin. It will never do to talk of justification by faith and redemption through His blood if my daily life is unholy and bringing dishonor on the name of Christ. I am called to walk with God day by day. I am called to walk before Him in purity of heart, and this is where cleansing by water comes in. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26). By the precious blood of Christ I am justified before God. By the water I am practically sanctified. The water is a type of the Word of God, which is likened to water for practical cleansing in Psalm 119:9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
Let us imagine a young man who has been away from God, a stranger to His grace, and he is troubled because of his sin. He comes confessing his sin. If he is intelligently instructed, he comes to understand that his past sin is all put away, and he stands complete in the sight of God, as if he had never sinned at all. Now is that young man to go on living the way he did before? Oh, no. Now he studies the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit opens it up and reveals its truths to him. Thus, he is cleansed by taking heed to the Word.
And so Jesus said to His disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). This is cleansing by water. He illustrated it, you remember, by washing the feet of His disciples, and He said to reluctant Peter, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (13:7). When did Peter find out its meaning? It was after he had slipped and fallen into sin and his feet became defiled. Later the blessed Lord applied the Word to Peter and he was restored to fellowship with God. Then he was made clean by the washing of water by the Word. You see why the Word is likened to water. It is because of its practical cleansing effect. I am to judge anything that God shows me to be wrong and then I am to seek, by grace, to walk as that Word indicates. What happens? Why, those things are literally washed away out of my life by the Word. My mind is purified by the Word, my heart is made clean by the Word. All this then is suggested by that which John saw on Calvary that day. The very spear that pierced the side of the Son of God drew forth the blood that saved, but not only the blood, there was also the water.
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
John next calls our attention to two Scripture passages that were in process of fulfillment that day. He says, “These things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36). Those soldiers had no idea they were fulfilling anything in Scripture when they forbore to break His legs, but long years ago Moses gave instructions concerning the first Passover. We read in Exodus 12:43, 46: “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover… In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” So God had commanded that not one bone of the Passover Lamb should be broken, and there hung upon the cross the true Passover.
No bone of Thee was broken,
Thou spotless Passover Lamb.
God’s Word was fulfilled even though the soldiers did not realize it.
But another Scripture had to be fulfilled. In Zechariah 12:10 it was written of Messiah, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” And so when this other Roman soldier, without realizing that his act had anything to do with the Word of God, thrust that spear into the side of the Lord Jesus Christ, he too was simply carrying out what had been predicted long before.
But now, observe this, so long as our blessed Lord was in the sinner’s place, so long as He was viewed by God as the great trespass offering, God permitted every kind of indignity that satanic malignity could suggest to be heaped upon the body of His Son. That blessed Head was crowned with thorns. They smote Him in the face with their hands. They spit upon that lovely countenance. They beat Him with the cruel scourge until the blood poured down His back. They took Him out to Calvary and nailed Him to the cross. And then at last, they pierced His side, and God did not interfere. He permitted it all, and yet it was not what man did to Jesus that put away sin. It was not that which settled the sin question. It was what Jesus endured at the hand of God when His soul was made an offering for sin. But it pleased God that all the worst that was in man’s heart should be there told forth and the best that was in the heart of God. Man’s hatred and God’s love met there.
God did not interfere as long as Jesus suffered in the sinner’s place. But just the moment after the blood and the water flowed forth from that wounded side, it was as though God said, “Now, hands off! The sin question is settled. My Son is no more in the sinner’s place.” And from that moment on, no unclean hand touched the body of the Son of God. Not one person was allowed to do anything that would in any sense dishonor that sacred corpse. Loving hands took Jesus down from the cross, drawing out those dreadful nails and removing His hands and feet from the wood.
Joseph of Arimathea, who had for sometime been convinced in his own heart that Jesus was the Christ, came forth openly. We read, “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus” (John 19:38). Joseph and the friends of Jesus gathered round that cross and took that sacred body down. Then just at the appointed moment there came also Nicodemus— the man who had come to Jesus by night, the man who had spoken up in the Sanhedrin—and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight, a vast amount. They took the body of Jesus and wound it in linen cloths. The Jews would dip these cloths in an ointment and spices, and then they would wind them round the arms, the lower limbs, and the torso, and then bind them altogether. You remember Lazarus came forth bound in the grave clothes.
And where did they lay Jesus? Well, in the place where He was crucified, a garden at the side of Calvary. We walked around there a few years ago, and oh, how our hearts were moved as we went from the place of the cross to the garden tomb. “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid” (v. 41). And in that new sepulcher they laid Him.
They took the rest of the spices that were not needed for the body and they made a bed in the crypt. They gave Him the burial of a King. We read that when King Asa died, they laid him on a bed of spices. And God seemed to say, “While My Son was in the sinner’s place, I allowed everything to be done to Him that satanic minds could think of. Now He must be recognized as the King that He is, and He must be given the burial of a King.” So He was laid upon a bed of spices. “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (v. 42). And until the resurrection morning He was to remain in that new tomb and then come forth in triumph, the Conqueror of death. How our hearts rejoice in Him today!