Series: Easter Sermons
The Overwhelming Death of Christ
April 15, 2022 | Andrew Davis
Supremacy of Christ, Deity of Christ
Andy Davis preaches on the book of John and John's eyewitness account of Jesus' crucifixion, establishing a true testimony that every aspect of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are indeed historical facts.
Please pray with me now. Father, as we have had the opportunity to sing songs that meditate on the death of Your Son, it's a sober meditation. It is good for us, O Lord, to meditate deeply and to understand the death of Jesus on our behalf. I pray that now, You would give us the gift of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this place. For it is His unique work in this world to exalt Jesus to the highest place in our minds, our hearts, and our estimation based on the Scripture that He himself inspired. We pray now that there would be an anointing of the spirit on me, on my words, and then on all of our hearts so that we can understand the things that we have just heard, and that these truths would burn in our hearts within us, transforming us and enabling us to live, to walk in newness of life. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Psalm 71:15 says, "My mouth will tell of Your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure." All of us infinitely underestimates what our salvation cost Jesus Christ. We underestimate the gravity of our sins and the holiness of God and the heat of His wrath, His righteous wrath, against us for our sins. We underestimate all of these things. Even if we've been Christians many years, even if we love Jesus, we underestimate what our salvation cost Jesus.
This is a Good Friday observance. For myself, I was raised Roman Catholic, and Holy Week observances were a big part of my spiritual formation growing up. I remember being an altar boy and doing something called the Stations of the Cross. We would go from place to place in our church. There were stained glass pictures of the final hours of Jesus' life, and there would be readings at each of those. We Baptist, I think, have rightly rejected the elaborate system of holy days and the holy year that was handed down from medieval Catholicism on even to the present day. Baptists focus on Good Friday, on the death of Christ. Certainly here in this church, we preach Christ crucified every week. It's not a week that goes by that I don't mention the death of Christ for our sins, and it's as it should be. Yet, a Good Friday service like this gives us a chance to slow down, to pause, and to look at specific details connected with the death of Christ that ordinarily we wouldn't mention. This evening we're going to be looking at just some details from the death of Jesus from the gospel of John, chapter 19.
I want to assert right away how important in particular John's testimony is, John's account of the death of Christ, because he was an actual eyewitness of Jesus's death. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was standing right there watching Jesus die. He adds some specific details to our knowledge of the death of Christ that we could have no other way. One of those details is the fact that the soldiers determined that Jesus was already dead, greatly to their surprise, but to confirm it, one of the soldiers drove a spear up into Jesus' side. When he did, blood and water came flowing out. John strongly emphasized this, and he strongly emphasized the eyewitness testimony that that happened. He underscores it in verse 35 of John 19. "The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. And he knows that he tells the truth and he testifies so that you also may believe." That's very serious words connected with this flow of blood and water. The reason this is so important, among other reasons, is that every aspect of Jesus's life, Jesus' death, and Jesus' resurrection from the grave are established in the gospels as historical fact. The role of eyewitness testimony is vital to that. Luke begins his gospel with these words: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated…” . The reason Luke wrote his gospel based on careful investigation of the testimony of eyewitnesses is so that we would know the certainty of the things we have been taught. He means historical certainty, the accuracy of it. John in his epistle, 1 John 1:1, speaks of this also, his role as an eyewitness. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. And we proclaim this eyewitness testimony so that you also may have fellowship with us and with God." So it's all based on eyewitness testimony. Peter writes the same thing in 2 Peter 1:16, "We did not follow cleverly invented myths when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we were eyewitnesses of His majesty." Cleverly invented myths, skillfully woven fiction, Peter said, "We didn't do that." Jesus' life, His death, and His resurrection are not cleverly devised fables or myths. They're not fiction or even spiritual parables which when we read them are move or moved morally and spiritually to live a better life. No, that's not what the gospels are about. It's not what the New Testament is about.
“…Every aspect of Jesus's life, Jesus' death, and Jesus' resurrection from the grave are established in the gospels as historical fact.”
Some of you may have heard of a place called Narnia. It's a fantasy world crafted by an author named C. S. Lewis and written into his books called the Chronicles of Narnia, a fantasy world that four British children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, reached through a wardrobe, a wooden closet where the clothes are kept. They go further and further back, and suddenly, they're in another world, Narnia. Readers of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia can derive all kinds of spiritual benefit from the books, indeed they have for decades now. But I certainly hope all of you know it's fiction. It's absolutely cleverly invented myths, fables which are written for a spiritual purpose. The same thing with Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth, with the Shire and Gondor and Mirkwood and Mordor, and all those places. They're all fantasy locations, and Aragorn and Gandalf and Frodo are fictitious characters. I hope you all know that. Some people are so into these worlds that they can forget, and it gets blurry. But they are cleverly invented fables, it's not true, but the accounts we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are based on eyewitness testimony. They're history, works of historical fact based on the sober testimony of eyewitnesses.
As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul testifies concerning the resurrection of Christ from the dead that, "If Christ had actually not been physically raised from the dead," he said, "our preaching is useless, and so is your faith." In other words, if this whole thing that we're talking about tonight is a cleverly devised fable, you shouldn't have come here tonight. I shouldn't be up here talking. My preaching is useless, and so is your Christian faith. It's a strong statement. More than that, Paul says, "We have not been found to be false witnesses about God for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. It actually happened." And then a few verses later, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you're still in your sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost." That's how important history is to Christianity. So it really matters whether or not Christ really lived, whether or not Christ really said and did the things the gospels record that He said and did; whether or not Christ really died on the cross, and whether or not Christ really actually rose from the dead. The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are written based on the testimonies of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus personally.
Over the centuries, many false teachers have arisen to trouble the church with questions about these very things. Early on there were some false teachers called docetists based on the Greek word “dokein”, meaning “to seem”, that Jesus seemed human, but He really wasn't. Others raised questions about Jesus's death. Even in the 19th century and beyond, some devised something called the Swoon Theory that Jesus actually fainted on the cross, He just seemed dead. Some theologically liberal scholars have questioned the gospel records as faulty because they contain miracles. They look on them as religious myths. Scholars like a man named Rudolph Boltman tried to go through and demythologize the New Testament, strip it of all of its, clearly, obviously, mythological aspects, miracles, and embarked on the quest for the historical Jesus. Can I just shut that down right now? You want the quest for the historical Jesus, read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There's the historical Jesus. You don't have to go any further. It's all of it history based on eyewitness accounts, and that includes that of the apostle John in the account you just heard read, John 19. John was standing there, watched it happen, and he testified that it happened. Based on these gospel records, all four of them, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have a strong sense of the truthfulness, the absolute certainty of what we have been taught. Jesus actually lived, fully God and fully human. Jesus actually died. He actually was dead on the cross. He literally died. The effusion of water and blood from His side proves it. Jesus actually rose from the dead, physically, bodily on the third day. Therefore, our sins are actually forgiven. We ourselves will actually be raised from the grave in bodies like Christ. We ourselves will actually live forever in heaven. That's how important this history is. Assurance, certainty, a sense of the certainty of the things you have been taught, that's what we get from meditating deeply on these historical details. The account of these details gives us an intensification of our awareness of these truths. The account of Jesus' death in John 19 gives us that certainty. The evidence is that Jesus died at exactly the right time that day. I mean within seconds. He died at exactly the right time to fulfill prophecy, to fulfill the plan of salvation that God had made for sinners all over the world in every generation, even from before the foundation of the world.
Certainly, there were events, human events that led up to His trial, His conviction, and His execution. Satan did in fact put it in Judas heart to betray Jesus, so Satan had a role. Judas Iscariot did, in fact, conspire with the chief priest and the teachers of the law to hand Jesus over to them. This he did by identifying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with a kiss. The chief priests and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees did, in fact, arrest Jesus. They did, in fact, bring Him to the house of Annas, the high priest, Annas and Caiaphas, did, in fact, condemn Jesus to death on the testimony... It all happened. They did, in fact, hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. Then they effectively pressured Pilate so that he would finally give in to them and murder an innocent man, a man he knew was innocent. Pilate did, in fact, condemn Jesus to death, turn Jesus over to the soldiers who did, in fact, mock Him and flog Him, spit on Him and beat Him. All of that's true. And they did, in fact, lead Him away to Golgotha where they crucified Him by nailing His hands and His feet to the cross with two other men, two robbers, one on His right, the other His left. Yes, yes, yes, these human actors, all of them did these human things, and they are held accountable for what they did. However, all of them were merely servants of almighty God carrying out a plan that had been crafted in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. Every one of those details had been planned out before God said, "Let there be light."
Peter said this in his great Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by signs and wonders and miracles, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know." This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge, and you with the help of wicked men put Him to death, nailing Him to the cross.” Do you hear that? He was handed over to you by God, by God's set purpose and foreknowledge, carrying out a plan that had been crafted before the world began. They say the same thing a couple of chapters later in Acts 4. As the church is praying together, persecutions about to ramp up and they're getting ready for it by praying, this is what they said. "Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant, Jesus, whom You anointed." They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. They couldn't be clearer. They were following a script, though they didn't know the script or know that they were following a script. The soldiers gambled for Jesus clothes so that Scripture would be fulfilled. The soldiers didn't get up that day saying, "I think we'll fulfill Scripture today by gambling for someone's clothes." They just gambled for clothes because they wanted them, but the Scripture says, "So this is what the soldiers did because that's what the prophecy said they should do." All of this was crafted in the mind of God before God said, "Let there be light." Before the foundation of the world, God determined to crush His Son to death to save sinners like you and me from hell. That's what God decided to do for us. He established prophecies through the Holy Spirit, and through prophets so that we could identify, triangulate on this one person, of all the billions that have ever lived. This one man is the savior of the world. The prophecies identify Him.
“Before the foundation of the world, God determined to crush His Son to death to save sinners like you and me from hell. That's what God decided to do for us.”
One of the most important religious customs was animal sacrifice, which was established, I believe, in the Garden of Eden and then carried out multiple times with the patriarchs, Noah after the flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; they all did animal sacrifice. Especially, Moses at the time of the dreadful 10th plague, the plague on the first born, the night of the Passover when each Jewish family would set aside a lamb, a Passover lamb. There were certain stipulations about it, et cetera. But the laws in Exodus 12:46 about the Passover lamb was that not a single bone of the lamb would be broken. Exodus 12:46, "It must be eaten inside one house. Take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones." The same thing in Numbers 9:11-12 about the Passover, "They are to eat the lamb together with uneven bread and not leave of it till morning or break any of its bones." When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow the regulations. Jesus died at just the right instant to fulfill this prophecy. The thing with crucifixion is it's designed for cruelty. It's a very cruel death, it's a very vicious death because there's nothing immediately killing the victims. They were known to linger for days on the cross. When Jesus was dead, Pilate was shocked that He was already dead. The Jewish authorities, because it was a Passover, it was a high Sabbath, they knew that action had to be taken on these three men or they would linger all night, and they didn't want them on the cross all night. So Jesus died just in the nick of time to avoid having His bones broken. He had the power to do this.
Jesus uniquely had the power over his life and his death. He said to Pilate, “The reason I entered the world was to testify to the truth.” None of you can make such a statement. Why did you choose to be born? What was your purpose in entering the world? None of us can say that. We don't have any purpose, we're born. But Jesus chose to enter the world. In the same way, He chose to die. If He hadn't chosen to die, He would never have died. He said this plainly in John 10:17-18, "The reason My Father loves me is that I lay down my life only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back up again. This command I receive from my Father." That's an utterly unique speech that only Jesus could make. "No one can kill me if I don't want to die, but I'm actually laying down my life." At just the right time, Jesus gave up His spirit and died. He gave up His spirit of His own choice. John 19:28-30 says, "Later, knowing that all was now completed and so that the scripture will be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it and put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus' lips. And when He had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' And with that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." None of us can do that. You can't just pillow your head on your chest and die. But Jesus had that power to give up His spirit. If He had died even just a few moments later, His bones would've been smashed by the soldiers. It says in verse 31-33, "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 their legs broken and the bodies taken down. 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." There was a clear Jewish law against leaving dead bodies on a tree overnight. Deuteronomy 21 says, "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. Be sure to bury him that same day because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance." Jesus was under a curse by being hung on the cross. As Paul points out in Galatians, "He was made a curse for us. Because of our sins, we deserve to be cursed by God." Jesus took that curse on Himself. The Jewish legalists are trying to avoid the defilement of the Passover by allowing these dead bodies to remain on the tree overnight. The soldiers in conformity with this Jewish demand brought probably a huge hammer, a mallet or something like that, smashed the legs of the first man, unspeakable cruelty, so that he couldn't push up. So also the other man, smashed his bones, probably sent the body into shock, greatly accelerated death because they couldn't push up, they couldn't breathe anymore, and soon they were dead. But the soldiers came to Jesus, and these were expert executioners, they knew He was dead. There's no doubt. They were surprised, I'm sure, because it's just a short time. But Jesus had fulfilled all the prophecies that He could while still alive, and He pillowed His head on His chest and gave up His spirit. And in this way, the prophecy was fulfilled, "Not a bone will be broken."
“Why did you choose to be born? What was your purpose in entering the world? (…) We don't have any purpose, we're born. But Jesus chose to enter the world. In the same way, He chose to die.”
The actual physical cause of Jesus' death I think is more violent than we can possibly imagine. It is possible that when that soldier shoved the spear up into Jesus side and the blood and water flowed out, it gives evidence of a level of internal violence inside Jesus that is unspeakable beyond anything we could possibly comprehend. Verse 34 says, "One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water." There's so much discussion about this blood and water, and there are many themes that one could pick up here. The hymn “Rock of Ages” by Augustus Toplady. "Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. Let the water and the blood from thy wounded side which flowed be of sin the double cure, save me from wrath and make me pure." The blood taking away the wrath of God, the water cleansing as it speaks in the Book of Titus, being cleansed from our sins, so I think it's a valid meditation that Augustus Toplady does there. But I want to focus just on the significance of the blood and water physically. I was listening to a sermon by Martin Lloyd-Jones who before he was a preacher was a Royal physician, a doctor. He cited research done by other medical experts that this flow of water and blood was evidence that Jesus died of a ruptured heart, that the actual muscle of Jesus' heart was shredded. There's reasons for this. It has to do with the pericardium and what happens after death and all that. I'm not a doctor, I actually called a doctor friend as I was writing the sermon and he said, "We don't really know." So here I am saying I don't really know if Jesus died of a ruptured heart. But one thing I do know, when He was in Gethsemane, He was under such pressure that He sweat great drops of blue blood. Luke 22:44 says, "And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." What in the world is going on there? I believe that God revealed the cup to Him at levels and dimensions He had never seen before, and it knocked Him to the ground, and He was under intense mental, emotional, psychological, even physical anguish and pressure in Gethsemane. So much so that it seems, there's evidence, if He hadn't dispatched some angels to strengthen Him, He might have died right there. What could this be other than the wrath of God and the the relational separation, between Jesus and the Father as our sin-bearing substitute that pushed Him to a level of anguish and agony and grief that we can scarcely imagine. Jesus said in Mark 14:36, "Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will." That cup represents the aggressive, pure, holy wrath of God that God feels rightly for all of the sins and violations of His holy laws that we have committed. That's the cup. Psalm 75:8, it says, "In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices. He pours it out and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs." That's the cup of God's wrath, judgment. Revelation 14:10 says, "He too will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath."
There is no man in history who understood the holy wrath of God better than the pure Son of God. Jesus experienced in a way we... we use these expressions…, but with Jesus it's not just expression, Jesus experienced hell on earth for us. He drank hell for us so we wouldn't have to. It cost Him. It knocked Him to the ground in Gethsemane. It put blood coming out of His pores, and maybe it shredded His heart. I do know this, that the effusion of water and blood proved that it stopped His heart, so at least this much we can say, the flow of blood and water proves that Jesus was actually dead. He died for us. And why is that important? Because we deserve to die. We deserve death. The wages of sin is death. Isaiah 53 says, "Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. And by His wounds, we are healed. We're all like sheep who've gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." The soldier shoved this spear up into Jesus' side, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. John testified, "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." Believe what? What are you supposed to believe? Well, in the immediate case, believe that Jesus was actually human and that He was actually dead, and that His death on the cross is an actual atonement for your sins. As Galatians 2:20 says, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live. But Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." That's what you're supposed to believe, that Jesus' death was for you, that you deserved to die, but Jesus died in your place so that you would not have to drink that cup.
Whether his heart was actually literally ruptured or not, his heart was stopped. He was killed because of our sins. He died. So what? So therefore, we should have a sense of obligation. We should, first of all, realize, if our sins did that to Jesus' body, how much should we hate sin? How much should we hate sin since that's what it cost Jesus? So therefore, we should have a sense of indebtedness to Jesus resulting in personal holiness. Paul makes that point in 1 Corinthians 6, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you have been bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God with your body." Do you know what that means, you're not your own, you've been bought and paid for? Jesus shed His blood for you. He owns you. Therefore, be holy. Here it's talking about sexual purity.
Also, we should realize that Jesus bought us and, therefore, we should live for others. We should witness to others. We should evangelize others. This is the very point that Paul makes in II Corinthians 5, "For Christ's love compels us because we're convinced that one died for all and, therefore, all died. And He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again." There's an obligation we have. Because Jesus died for us, we should stop living for ourselves and live for Him and for others. The context there is evangelism, that we're ambassadors and that we should share the gospel with lost people. Personal holiness and evangelism, both of them flowing from a sense of indebtedness or obligation we have to Jesus.
“Christ's death does indeed pay our debts. So in that sense, we're free from debt. But there's a biblical sense in which we are indebted also. We're indebted to Christ; to live for Him who died for us and to live for others who need Him.”
I'll close with this story. Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf was a German nobleman born in the year 1700 into a life of ease and privilege. He was a good man in that sense, a moral man, a Christian, who was seeking to live a good life. But one day as a teenager, he was arrested by a powerful painting at an art museum in Dusseldorf. It was by Italian master Domenico Fetti, and it was called in the Latin, “Ecce homo”, which is what Pontius Pilate said, "Behold the man." It depicted the crucified Christ in agony on the cross. At the bottom of the painting was this caption, "All this I have done for you. Now what will you do for Me?" He stood there looking at this painting and was dissolving in tears. He had a mystical powerful experience right there looking at that painting. He resolved that for the rest of his life he would serve Christ and serve others. He became the leader of the Moravians at Herrnhut. The Moravians were leaders in Protestant missions long before William Carey, sending missionaries to the West Indies. A tremendous movement of Moravians, all of it flowed from his commitment to Christ. "All this I've done for you. Now what will you do for me?" Christ's death does indeed pay our debts. So in that sense, we're free from debt. But there's a biblical sense in which we are indebted also. We're indebted to Christ; to live for Him who died for us and to live for others who need Him. As Isaac Watts put it so powerfully in his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” the final stanza, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all."
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank You for the chance we have tonight to meditate with more detail than usual on the death of Jesus for us. Help us to hate sin. Help us to love Christ more than we do. Help us to live for His glory more than we do. Help us to be willing to put sin to death because we've learned to hate sin because it cost Jesus all of that agony. Help us to know that we are forgiven in ways that are deeper and richer than we can possibly imagine. And Lord, help us to go again and again to the cross for the power to live for others. It's in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.