1. An offense to man
Jesus was dead. The Son of God was dead. There was no life in the body hanging from the middle cross on Calvary. It hung there twisted, unnatural, slumped, though not completely limp, for already rigor mortis was setting in. If ever there was a picture of defeat and failure, it is the scene that greets us as we go to the cross to find that Jesus is already dead.
After thirty-three years of ministry, thirty-three years of love, thirty-three years of serving others, the leaders of the Jewish people colluded with their Roman rulers to crucify Jesus of Nazareth. After six hours of hanging on a cross, he breathed his last. Jesus was dead.
Sometimes those who kill will parade the dead body of their victim for their own glory. But to Jesus’ enemies, his dead body hanging on the cross was an offense. “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” (John 19:31-33). After so much effort in getting Jesus’ body up on the cross, why were the Jewish leaders in such a hurry to take it back down again? In Deuteronomy 21 Moses commanded, “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight.” How many laws had these men broken during the past 24 hours? False arrest, lying, blasphemy, murder. Now they are seized by a sudden case of scruples over an obscure rule about disposing of the corpse after an execution. Jesus’ lifeless body is an offense to them, and the sooner it is out of sight the better.
Is the Savior’s crucified, lifeless body an offense to you and me? When I was a child I didn’t like it when my parents made me look at my siblings I had made to cry, or something I had broken because I was playing where I wasn’t supposed to. “Just look at what you have done!” They said. My face blushed. The guilt seized me way down deep. No one likes to look very long at the fruit of their own failure. Jesus’ lifeless body is the ultimate fruit of our moral failures. God had him die in our place for our sins. Just look at what we have done! This is the outcome of lost tempers, loveless gossip, convenient lies, lusting eyes, prideful put-downs, selfish spending and a host of other sinful behaviors we hardly even notice each day. It stirs my guilt to think of Jesus hanging their motionless, his chest no longer heaving to draw breath, his muscles no longer tensed to try to support himself, a fixed stare no longer seeing what is going on in front of him. All because of me. I would feel better about myself if they would just take him down and get him out of view.
2. An affirmation of his faithfulness
But wait! Before they remove him, there is something more to see. Hidden in the Savior’s lifeless body is an affirmation of his faithfulness. “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. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced’” (John 19:34-37).
Even the lifeless body of Jesus is still fulfilling prophecy, still keeping his Father’s word. For all the abuse he has taken, not a bone is broken. For all the beatings he has endured, there is a kind of flawless integrity to this body. He is qualified to be our Passover Lamb, a Lamb without defect, a fitting Lamb of sacrifice to offer God for our sin. Though his soul has left his body, he does not let a single word of his Father go unfulfilled, affirming his utter faithfulness.
And Jesus is certainly dead. The spear that pierced his side likely ruptured his pericardium, the sack that surrounds his heart, and the heart itself, bringing this flow of blood and water. The pericardium was filled with fluid from congestive heart failure brought on by the crucifixion. That unbeating heart held one of the few reserves of blood large enough to flow from such a wound when the blood was no longer being pumped through the body. If there were any last traces of life to which he might have clung, this last wound would have put an end to them.
And so, Jesus died, as the prophets had predicted, as he himself had intended and promised, and even the injury that gives us final confirmation fulfills a word of Scripture. It all affirms Jesus’ faithfulness to the very end.
3. A foundation for our faith
When we confess the Apostles creed, we confess, “He was crucified, died, and was buried.” These words are a statement of our faith and for our faith. These words are demonstrated for us in Jesus’ lifeless body. Take a few last moments to see this body in your mind’s eye, to consider it through the eyes of faith, and to find there a foundation for our faith. “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” (John 19:35).
This body so badly wounded, now so still, assures us God’s wrath at sin has been spent. It has been completely used up and emptied, and we are safe. There are those who imagine that God shouldn’t need to punish sin in order to forgive us. He could just overlook it, excuse it, or ignore it, and accept us anyway. But such ideas don’t make a better or more appealing god. They only make an unjust and immoral one. Outrage at sin is the right thing.
Jesus’ body is so battered and now so lifeless because he shielded us from God’s outrage our sins deserved. Have you ever seen a ceramic tile from the heat shields on the space shuttle? They were not an aesthetic part of the space craft. They were not intended to be pretty. They became streaked and pitted from the intense heat they had to bear to protect the shuttle. Imagine the intensity of God’s anger as Jesus shielded us from the hell our sins deserved. It’s no wonder his body looks so pitiful here at the end. But as a result we can approach God in safety and confidence. In Jesus’ death our sins are paid for, forgiven, erased, and we have a foundation for our faith.
This body so badly wounded, now so still, expresses the ultimate act of love we have ever been shown. God’s love is written on every bruise, in every puncture and wound, in every drop of blood Jesus spilled. So many people promise their love to each other until death. So many fewer keep that promise until death. Jesus demonstrated his love by embracing death for us, love which is his glory, love on which our faith is safely founded.
The hill on which Jesus died was draped in black as the sun stopped shining on its dying Creator. But at Jesus’ cross we see the glory of his love as well. See in Jesus death the grace of God that saves you, find the joy of forgiveness, and know with confidence that Jesus has risen again, because his death makes death obsolete.