*Due to technical difficulties the Audio is unavailable for this week’s sermon.
The month of April is said to get its name from the Latin word aperio, meaning ‘to open.’ We can understand why it means this. April is a time of budding and blossoming, a time of resurrection and growth, where new life emerges once again from the death of winter. As we gather together here this morning on this the first Sunday of April, there is a call to hear and heed. May your heart, in accord with the universal awakening of nature, be opened to receive the Lord. Every blossoming flower calls out to you saying it is high time to seek the Lord. Don’t be out of tune with nature, rather, get underneath the ever flowing fount of Living Water so that your heart opens to the grace of Christ as the flower opens to the warmth of the sun. And from your heart so opening, may it bring forth, bud, and bloom all manner of holy pleasures and desires.
Where do we find such ever flowing fountain Church? In Christ crucified.
We turn now once again to the grand event John has been preparing us for throughout his entire gospel, the crucifixion of Jesus. In the past weeks we’ve seen Jesus get passed around from one trial to the next, we saw angry mobs cry out for His execution, we saw those in authority cave in to the crowd’s demands, we saw Jesus walk toward the cross, get nailed to it, and we saw Jesus on it, cry out “It is finished!” Today we come to the moment when His side is pierced, which gives way to a gush of both water and blood. It is a well known moment to any Christian filled with significance and meaning, that by God’s grace we’ll tap into now.
The text before us easily divides into three sections. The first section describes the event itself, while the concluding two sections define the meaning of this event. We’ll take them one at a time.
The Piercing (v31-34)
“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”
Upon entering this passage we see many things. If we were previously unaware we’re reminded in v31 not only that it is Friday, but that it’s a special Friday, the Friday before the Passover celebration called the Day of Preparation. For Jews every Friday really would have been a day of preparation where they would do all the needed prep work to get ready for the Sabbath to come. But that the Sabbath during this year’s Passover is upon them this day of preparation, as John mentions in v31, is a high day or a special day. There is some background to cover before we their next actions. According to Mosaic Law (specifically Deut. 21:23) an executed criminal was to be buried immediately after their execution. If they weren’t buried right away the land would become defiled. This is Jewish Law, God’s Law given through Moses…but recall, who’s in charge of this crucifixion, of any crucifixion? The Romans. Often the Romans would leave the bodies of those executed on a cross hanging on those crosses for many days after death as something of a warning of what happens to those who fight against Rome.
Now back to the Jews. The Roman habit of leaving their criminals on their crosses for days as a visible warning presented a problem for the Jews. Because the Passover was fast approaching and because they didn’t want the land defiled by the dead bodies they desire to quicken up the pace of the crucifixion so that these criminals die before the festivities begin. So they desire to break the legs of those on the crosses to bring their deaths about quicker. You can imagine why they’d do this. This is gruesome, but those hanging on a cross could alleviate some of the pressure on their arms and chest by pushing up on their legs. Once their legs grew tired they’d hang again for a time until it became too much on their chest and arms leading them to push up on their legs again. It was a cruel back and forth pattern that ultimately led to a very painful death. But, if both legs were broken the criminals couldn’t alleviate any of the pressure on the chest which would result in an almost immediate asphyxiation or suffocation.This is what the Jews desire in v31, so they ask Pilate if that’s allowable, he agrees, and in v32 this is what Pilate’s soldiers do.
The Jews hypocrisy must be pointed out here. In John’s gospel this is the last action we see from the group called ‘the Jews.’ They’ve been a wicked group all along, and their wickedness continues here at the end. Being eager to not let the land become defiled, they seem to miss that their action of killing the innocent Lamb of God defiles themselves. How sad is their condition? Sad indeed, but sadder still that many since have followed suit and become as Paul said in 2 Tim. 3:5, those who have, “…a kind of religion but deny it’s power…” On the surface people like this are very religious and perhaps even seem to be very godly, but beneath the surface it’s all a sham and in reality they’re little more than baptized worldliansrunning amuck in the Church. Too often the world has seen these people within the Church and concluded that we’re all like this. And we would be wrong if we denied it and said they don’t exist. Sadly many like this do exist within our churches, so sometimes the world is right to call those out. Seeing these Jews, and honestly seeing ourselves at times ought to lead us to deeper repentance and a truer resolve to pursue a holy authenticity. Where what we profess to believe matches what we actually possess in daily life. Where we allow our habits, customs, and traditions to die when Scripture disagrees with them. Where we seek to have lips that praise God and hearts that are near the God we praise. A holy authenticity is not only what these people lack, it’s what our world needs most.
Anywho, the soldiers come with heavy mallets to do this work of leg breaking and after beginning with the legs of the two other criminals they come to Jesus in the middle and are surprised to find Him already dead. The other two were still alive, why was He dead so soon? Well remember, the other two didn’t endure a near fatal flogging before hanging on the cross, so it’s understandable that Jesus (who did endure such flogging) was already dead. So, they don’t break His legs, no, that wouldn’t make sense now. Instead one of them grabs a long spear and pierces Jesus’ side. Why? It was either further brutality or a quick check to ensure Jesus hasn’t just passed out and is really dead.What results from the piercing? v34 tells us “At once there came out blood and water.” The significance of the presence of water and blood coming out from the spear thrust has been widely debated. Some say it’s evidence that Jesus’ heart had ruptured, others say it’s evidence that the body is made up of half water and half blood, while others say this is a kind of validation for the sacraments of baptism (water) and the Lord’ Supper (blood).
I do not deny that some of these opinions come nearer the truth than others, but among all these opinions it’s helpful to ask one question: why did this event stand out to John and why, as the author of this gospel, did he include this detail when the others leave it out? Well, by the time John wrote his gospel a false teaching about Jesus had already begun to circulate called Docetism. It taught that Jesus wasn’t truly human, but just appeared to be human. Carry this thought all the way through to the cross and this of course leads to the belief that His death on the cross wasn’t a true death but just appeared to be a death. John does interact and call out this false teaching in his three later letters more forcefully, but here I think he adds this detail to prove one thing: that Jesus was truly man, did truly die, making His body on the cross a true corpse.
But even if John’s aim in including this event was to combat this false teaching that doesn’t rule out a spiritual significance to be seen here as well. That blood flowed out reminds us of His sacrificial death, the cleansing power of His blood which purifies us from sin’s power and penalty. That water flowed out reminds us of our sins being washed white as snow, of the living water of the Spirit Jesus spoke of that wells up within us to eternal life, and of life abundant coming to us even in the midst of death. John is also likely thinking of the moment in Exodus 17 where God told Moses to strike the rock so water would flow out and refresh Israel. The parallel is wonderful is it not? Jesus hanging here in death is the Rockstruck by the Father, causing a redemptive fountain to flow forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Fanny Crosby wrote of this in the hymn ‘Near the Cross’ saying, “Jesus, keep me near the cross; there a precious fountain, free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.”Augustus Toplady also included this event in his hymn Rock of Ages calling it a ‘double cure’ saying, “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and blood, from Thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
Be sure of this. On the cross Jesus didn’t fake His death by swooning, passing out, He didn’t go into a coma. No, becoming true Man Jesus died a true death, and from His death God opened true flood that now flows forth in a mighty fountain washing away all the sins of all those who drink of this living stream. So wherever you’ve been, whatever your situation is, however far you’ve run away, or however hardened you may be…all who come to this fountain in faith, all who come to Christ can begin again, and all in need, need fear no more.
So we’ve seen the piercing, now see…
The Pause (v35)
Before John continues on to unfold the purpose and grand meaning behind Jesus’ side being pierced he pauses to comment on something he doesn’t want us to miss. In v35 he says, “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”
What does John not want us to miss? What does he want us to know? He wants us to know his account of these events is reliable, that it’s worthy of our trust. That his evidence of it is accurate, that the contents of it are dependable. He does this again at the end of his gospel, and some of the other biblical authors do this as well throughout their own writings. But do you notice why he pauses to remind us of the truthfulness and reliability of his account? There it is at the end of v35, “…that you also may believe.” Church, John didn’t write his gospel to merely pass certain information from himself to you, or to encourage you to see faith as a leap into the dark. John wrote his gospel that, upon reading it, you would be compelled by the truth, so compelled by the truth that you would be converted!That you would be transformed! That you would believe in Jesus Christ and by believing experience being raised to new life in Him! There is no hidden agenda here, don’t you love that? John is after our hearts in his gospel, and he wants his readers, he wants us, to know it. And guess what? It’s what we want all of you to know as well. In every sermon, in all we do here at SonRise, we too are after your hearts! There is no hidden agenda here, no secret scheming behind the scenes. Yes, we care about knowing the right things about God and passing those right things to you. Yes, we care about doing careful and precise and historic theology. But, we don’t do those things as an end in themselves. We don’t do those things to just have a good theology about us. No, we pursue a right knowledge of God from the Scriptures because we love the God of Scripture. We don’t want to be a community that creates a bunch of baptized worldlians, no. We want you to experience, to encounter, to come to, and be compelled by Christ as He stands forth before us in His Word week in and week out until the day comes when you stand before Him face to face! Learn here not only what our agenda is here but learn here what you ought to pray for yourself and for others. That you yourself, your spouse, your kids, your neighbors, and your friends would be so compelled by Christ that we’d see Him as He is, salvation from sin’s dominion over us and satisfaction in the depths within us. Amen?
I guess the sermon must end sometime, so let’s move now to the last section of our passage. We’ve seen the piercing and the pause, now see the purpose.
The Purpose (v36-37)
“For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
John now concludes his account of the crucifixion with the purpose of this piercing. And as he does so many times before he now does again pointing out how these things fulfilled prophecies of old. He does this in two ways. First in v36 about His bones not being broken, and second in v37 about His side being pierced. That Jesus’ legs weren’t broken while the other criminals were, and that He was then pierced with a spear when that didn’t regularly occur makes this moment an extraordinary moment of fulfillment.But be careful here, John doesn’t mean the soldiers acted as they did here with the intention of fulfilling Scripture, not at all. John means God so ordered these events in His governing providential hand that they were both the free actions of these soldiers and the fulfillment of Scripture.They soldiers meant these actions for their own purposes, while God meant them for His grand redemptive purposes.
First v36, not one of His bones will be broken. This brings us back to Exodus 12:46 where we learn the Passover lamb was only rightly handled and consumed if none of its bones were broken. We could also go to Psalm 34:20 where David speaks of God’s care over His righteous One in the midst of affliction saying, “God keeps all of His bones, not one of them is broken.” These Old Testament passages are fulfilled the moment the soldiers decide to not break Jesus’ bones, and for those who eyes to see will see that even back then before these events unfolded Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God – the righteous and afflicted One slain for His people, was in view.
Second v37, they will look on Him whom they have pierced. This brings us back to Zechariah 12:10 where God says, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look upon Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” In Zechariah’s context God’s people are told they will weep when they realize how deeply they’ve rejected God in their past sins. Into this weeping Zechariah 13 then begins with a startling promise, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” God’s people will indeed mourn and weep over their sin but in the midst of their sorrow God will bring redemption and cleansing through a fountain He will open. The result of them mourning over sin and being washed by this fountain is found in Zechariah 13:9, “They will call upon My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are My people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
When John sees Jesus’ side pierced and water and blood flowing out, John sees this Scripture fulfilled. He sees a gory scene playing out before him on the cross that will lead many to weep and mourn over their sins, and he sees those same people rejoicing as they experience being redeemed and washed clean by this fountain flowing forth in gospel power! John is so struck by this he quotes this passage once again in Revelation 1:7 as he soberly reminds his readers of the end of all who reject the Savior. They will weep and mourn over their sin and be filled with dread as they see Him whom they pierced coming on the clouds.
In these fulfillments of Scripture of old there is vast confrontation here for those who refuse this. Confrontation for those who stand in their arrogance denying their sin and need for Him. Confrontation for those who walk away from the cross only to drink up more and more sinful pleasures. Confrontation for those who will learn that Hell is truth known too late, as they see Him whom they have pierced, and mourn and weep at the presence of the wrathful Lamb coming in power to judge once and for all. But there is also vast comfort here. Comfort for those who will humble themselves, mourning and weeping, acknowledging their sins. Comfort for those who come empty handed to gaze upon the Lamb of God slain the cross. Comfort for those who rejoice as they are washed white as snow by the fountain of the water and the blood.
Church, what’s your response today? Is it one of comfort or confrontation?
Remember where we began today and what time of year it is. April is upon us. Do not neglect it’s call to us. May your heart, in accord with the universal awakening of nature, be budding, be blossoming, and be opening to receive this Lord of glory.
Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (accessed via Accordance Bible software, 4/3/19) entry for the evening of April 1.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 817-818.
A phrase coined by Charles Spurgeon I believe.
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 445. See also Morris, page 818.
Modern medicine denies such a reality.
A common Jewish belief.
Chrysostom and St. Augustine believed this.
Paul also makes this point in 1 Corinthians 10 powerfully.
Fanny J. Crosby, “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” (1869).
Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776).
David Crowder, lyrics from the songHappiness, Church music, 2009.
Osborne, page 446.
Morris, page 822-823.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 627, footnote 1.
Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 601-602. See also Carson page 627-628.