The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
In John 19:31-37 we find that the Jews do have at least a shred of conscience. John has often spoken of “the Jews” as enemies of the Gospel. They frequently come off as the villains. However, the idea of death and defilement through public humiliation is taken very seriously. The Jews didn’t wish to have the crucified people remain through the Sabbath, especially since this was a very important Sabbath. Therefore, they asked that the execution squad should do the merciful deed of breaking the legs of the convicts.
Does it seem unmerciful to break their legs? There’s method to the madness. As long as the people were able, they would fight for their breath. This could prolong the execution, even for several days. By breaking the legs of the people who were on the crosses, they would die relatively quickly. In more recent years, the custom has been that if a person is being hanged, if the hangman was feeling kind, he would give that person a hug and speed the process along.
Upon inspection, the soldiers find that Jesus has already died. There is no need to break his legs. John tells us that this is in fulfillment of a prophecy. However, the soldiers are professionals. It is their job to make certain that Jesus has died. They stab him in the side with a spear. If he bleeds like a living person, he needs to be put the rest of the way to death. However, it is clear from the flow, Jesus’ heart has stopped beating. His blood is no longer being circulated. He is dead indeed.
The story is very sad. Yes, Jesus has died, and he has died in a terrible way. Yet it is very important. The execution squad, who were professionals, knew how to determine death. Jesus, the immortal Son of God, had died. He accomplished the impossible. Skeptics have suggested that Jesus wasn’t really dead, that he was just injured, that there was a case of mistaken identity, or any number of other suggestions which could explain away the miraculous situation described in the Gospels. But we need to remember that the people in charge of Jesus were not in the habit of losing their prisoners and did know what death looked like. Jesus died on the cross that day.
Romans chapter 5 explains that through his death and resurrection all who believe can have life. He reversed the curse of sin and death brought upon the human race by Adam. Without his death, nothing is accomplished. But through his death we can have life. This is the good news of Good Friday.
If this brief meditation was helpful to you, I hope you will check out the other materials on our website at www.WittenbergCoMo.com and consider supporting us.