John 19 v31-37
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders 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. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 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. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”] 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Of course these verses show us that Jesus really did die (as opposed to Surah IV:156-157 where the Quran says he didn’t and that at the last moment Jesus was swapped for a disciple who looked like him, so that Jesus wasn’t ever on a cross). To suggest that the Roman soldiers had crucified the wrong man is ludicrous. The Chief Priests had got their man. The women around the cross could see he was their Lord. John in order to confirm his death says that because of their devotion to God the leaders wanted the bodies taking down from the cross. The crucified would often still be half alive for many days pushing themselves up in order to breathe. Pilate agreed and the soldiers broke their legs and they died within minutes. They came to Jesus and he looked like he had already died. To make sure they stuck a spear into his side and the substance that came out confirmed that he had already gone. So they didn’t break his bones. Looking back John sees again that all this had been mentioned in Scripture. Exodus 12 v46 gives instruction that the Passover Lamb should not have its bones broken. Zechariah 12 v10 says the Messiah will be pierced.
But these verses show us something else which until now I hadn’t seen.
Jesus died before the other two criminals. Why is that important? Remember what Luke said in 23 v43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”?
One of the thieves on the cross had been given a promise for that day. Then he saw Jesus die. “Your death won’t take days to come it will be today,” and the thief had to do what we all have to do and that is to hold on to the promises of God that when we die we will be with Jesus in Paradise. The place that the apostle Paul experienced in a vision (2 Cor 12:3) and the place that was promised to the church at Ephesus in John’s Revelation (2:7). The followers of Jesus all have to hold on to the promise that when their Today comes they will be with Jesus on that day. For some that may be a battle of faith in itself. How can you believe in a place where you have never been? How can you know you will qualify to be there? It seems the more we follow, the journey may be anxious, but the destination is assured in us.
One final thing is of course that Jesus went alone, so did the thief and so shall we. We have all been moved by the stories of the caring professionals stepping into the place of family members as they sat and held the hands of those dying recently. The thought of anyone dying alone is something that we see as an injustice in every culture of the world.
I’ve held the hand of many and tears flow easily when I think of the hands of my friends. There is always some tug-of-war going on. To survive is our instinct that we have for others as well as ourselves until ‘we let them go’; ‘they’ve gone’; “passed away”; “departed”; “slipped away”; “went home” “went to a better place.” There are so many euphemisms and many are so helpful but one thing remains the same, we go alone. Jesus doesn’t take us, he waits for us. Those that prepare for that journey in their hearts and minds now are better equipped for when it does come. We live in a safe neighbourhood and at the top of our hill is a lovely forest where I walk a lot. My daughter says she would never walk their alone. She doesn’t need to because we walk together. “You’ll never walk alone” sing fans of a certain football club who didn’t win the Premier League in 2020. But we will walk alone and that’s okay because we have encountered Jesus, even if that was as a thief and at our lowest ebb, we met him, he gave us a promise and we go alone holding onto that promise that he will meet us when we die.