This morning our pastor preached out of the passage in the Gospel of John which describes the period immediately after the death of Jesus. The picture is this; the time is the afternoon before Passover, a most high holy time for the Jews, and it is an offense to have dying people on crosses hanging by their nailed extremities at this time. The Jewish leaders asked the Roman governor to order the breaking of the condemned men’s legs so that they would be unable to push themselves upward in order to draw a breath, thereby dying of asphyxiation That way their bodies could be removed from the crosses before sundown. The two thieves were indeed still alive and their leg bones were accordingly broken with a large mallet. When the soldiers came to Jesus however they saw that He was already dead, which surprised them. Just to be sure about things a soldier stuck a spear into Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out of the wound.
Many years ago when I was coming to faith in God once again after a seventeen year separation a pastor spoke with me about my reservations. I was a very rational and scientific sort of person and not at all likely to take things on faith. That pastor sized me up very neatly and gave me a small stack of books which he thought would help me get over the materialistic hump. I don’t remember what most of those books were but two of them rocked my world: “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and “The Resurrection Factor” by Josh McDowell. The sermon this morning reminded me greatly of reading the second of those two books.
McDowell went about discussing the whole crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection story as if he was analyzing it in forensic terms. Many explanations by unbelieving individuals of the events of that day turn on doubt that Jesus really was crucified, doubts that He really died, doubts that He was laid in a tomb, and doubts that He left that tomb alive. I will not cover all of McDowell’s points but will limit myself to the doubt that Jesus actually died.
The Romans were very good at killing people. In fact, all of the various empires and regional powers of the time were pretty good at that, but the Romans had become the masters of the entire Mediterranean world by being a little bit better at it than anyone else. It is with great confidence therefore that I regard the words of John when he writes that the Roman soldiers found Jesus already dead.
John then goes on to point out that one of the soldiers stuck a spear into Jesus just to make sure he was a goner. Now when I was a soldier, if I would have wanted to make certain that an enemy was dead I would have shot him in the head – especially if I suspected that he was a zombie – or in the area of the heart if he was only a common, garden variety Viet Cong. Thankfully I never had to do any such thing, but that is exactly how I would have proceeded if I had found myself forced with the necessity to do so. But Jesus was up on a cross and one would never try to stick a spear into a man’s head anyway, considering that his heart was a good deal softer and less protected by a skull and so on, so I have no doubt that the Roman soldier put his spearhead straight into the non-beating heart of Jesus.
And what do you suppose flowed out of that wound? Exactly what you would expect, if Jesus was in fact dead. Blood and water ran down the body of Jesus, according to John, to drip into the dust on the Hill of the Skull. What this said to McDowell, and what it says to me too, is that Jesus was not only dead, but had been dead for a while when the spear entered his heart. When blood ceases to flow it begins to separate into its liquid and solid components. The solid stuff, the red and white blood cells and platelets and so forth, settle to the bottom while the watery plasma remains on the top. When that spear penetrated Jesus’ body and entered the heart that fluid was released to flow outside, followed by some of the solid red matter mixed with plasma.
This removes from the discussion any idea that Jesus merely fainted and was revived later, only to disappear into a far away country, take a wife, have some kids, and resume his occupation of carpentry while a new religion in His name was founded and slowly became the official religion of the entire Mediterranean world. John’s description was too detailed and accurate for me to doubt it’s truth. Jesus died on that cross, and over 500 people saw Him afterword alive and well before He finally ascended into heaven.
I have read many more convincing proofs that Jesus is whom He says He is, but this one came to me at a time of doubt and weakness, and will always be a favorite for me.