This is a very dark moment. Judas has betrayed him, Peter has denied him, the disciples have fled from him, justice has not served him, and life has dripped away from him. Jesus is dead, the darkest moment in all history, a moment that millions of Christians mark with solemn and sometimes sorrow filled Good Friday services. Yet as John tells us about the death of Jesus there is something quite positive going on. Jesus is dead, but there is a hint of hopeful excitement from John:
. . . one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) John 19:34-35 NRSV
John’s statement about his testimony almost seems out of place at this particular moment. Why must John tell us here that he is an eyewitness to the death of Jesus?
First, John wants people to know that Jesus really did die, and having died, therefore really did rise from the dead. The resurrection is so incredible, so amazing, that many will explain it away as not happening at all. They still do. “Perhaps Jesus did not fully die on the cross?” they say. John is heading off that question before it is asked. The resurrection is incredible, but it is also believable. Yes, Jesus did really rise from the dead, for he really did die.
At an Association gathering recently the speaker helped us consider the ways that the Christian church is on the margins of Canadian society. For many Canadians, religion just does not speak to reality. Sure, you can be a person of faith if you like, or follow some religion, but don’t speak to me about it. Religion is seen as optional. Truth, however, is not optional and John is very eager for you and I to know that the death and resurrection of Jesus is historical fact.
Second, John wants people to know that Jesus’ death is effective. Notice where he places his affirmation of being an eyewitness:
33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” John 19:33-37 NRSV
John is an eyewitness to the fact that Jesus’ death is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and prophecies. That Jesus’ legs were not broken is significant in that an appropriate lamb for the Passover meal should not have broken bones. Considering John goes to the trouble of letting us know that Jesus is crucified at the time the Passover lambs are killed, the point is clear: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 KJV). Through Jesus God was doing what the yearly slaughter of innocent lambs was pointing to – the innocent dying on behalf of the guilty, which of course includes you and me. The death of Jesus really does have a profound effect. There really is something good about Good Friday! Does the good in Good Friday go beyond a day off work or school for you?