This is the last part of the rebirth mini-series we created to lead into this Easter moment. This is Palm Sunday weekend. I must be even more forthright and say that I have a particular agenda here. One of my desires is to teach a portion of scripture that reminds us of the extent of what Jesus did for us and what happened after He was taken down from the cross. I want us to understand what happens. The other part of it is I want us to be motivated and prepared to embrace this week in a way that we may not have if we hadn’t come. So there’s a teaching, an embracing, and a practical component that I’d like us to consider. It’s the idea of learning and listening to what the Lord might want to speak to us about.
Nicodemus has been our focus point on this little rebirth. We’ve been tracing his journey of faith. How he went from an unconvinced, intrigued agnostic to someone who ended up committing himself as a follower of Jesus. When that happened, we don’t know. We know that it starts with his first meeting with Jesus. We talked about it in-depth and was recorded in John three where it says, “He came secretly in the night.” It’s in the course of that conversation that Nicodemus’ heart was moved. Nicodemus was much older than Jesus. He was a member of the most prestigious council in Jerusalem at the time. It was their version of a Supreme court. Nicodemus was powerful, rich, and well-trained. He was learned in the law and yet the teachings of the Lord compelled him. He wanted to arrange to hear more directly from Jesus. When Nicodemus did that, we know he didn’t want the rest of his peers to know. He was covert in his interest and secretly met with Jesus. Nicodemus made his way through the dark streets of Jerusalem to speak with Jesus. They had a discussion in the night, around the flickering lights, and in the course of that conversation, his heart was deeply moved.
Nicodemus talked to the Lord about who he was and what that meant. Jesus spoke with him about this idea of being born again, made anew, made alive. It was the best way he could capture the essence of what it means to have your eyes opened up to the things that God was doing. Jesus talked about who He was and what He had come to do. It was special. It was powerful. Whether or not after that conversation Nicodemus immediately gave his life to Jesus, we don’t know. What we do know is somewhere along the way, between then and what we’re looking at now, something happened. Nicodemus made a decision that he believed loved Jesus. We’re going to see that. I think the best way for us to do this is to pick up with Jesus and some of His final words on the cross. I’d like to point out a couple of things for us to consider.
We’ll pick this up with John 19. There’s an interesting portion of scripture that captures what Jesus said. I think it’s worth looking at it because it says something about the way He dies. Jesus knew that His mission was now finished and to fulfill the scripture He said, “I’m thirsty.” Whenever the Bible says to fulfill the scripture, it’s talking about a literal reality because He was absolutely thirsty. He was parched. He was dying. He was thirsty but he also was connecting it to a prophetic utterance. There was a component of prophecy connected to Jesus’ death exploration of His condition physically. It says that a jar of sour wine was sitting there and the soldiers soaked the sponge put it on a hyssop branch.
Hyssop is an herb from the mint family. They had probably stripped it down of its leaves, bundled some together, and used it like a pole. They put a sponge on it to give Him a little bit. Something to numb the pain or at least to be able to give Him something for his absolute thirst as He was dying. The soldiers held it to His lips. When Jesus tasted it, that’s when he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and released His spirit. The way the Bible pictures it, Jesus is very aware of his mission. Also, there’s this kind of suffering. There’s a majesty even in His suffering. The Bible is suggesting is that He’s completing an assignment and not just a victim. He has been victimized but He’s clearly more than a victim. He is a victim and yet He isn’t because He’s moving according to a plan. Even the way it’s phrased, “He releases. He gives up His spirit.” Is almost as if He’s asserting Himself in His moment of death. We look at that little about the hyssop, this is oftentimes not appreciated, but it has significance. We can go back into the history of Israel to the time centuries before when a very defining moment happened for them as a people.
God said, from the descendants of Abraham, He would bring forth a nation. Out of that nation would come a Messiah, a savior for this world, Jew and Gentile alike. But the children of Israel, as they are called were enslaved and in bondage for 400 years. If you have ever seen the movie 10 Commandments, you know for sure what happened. In those 400 years, they tasted the bitterness of being not just oppressed but abused as a people. They cried out to God for a deliverer. None came. Finally, the Lord raised up a man, a deliverer, to lead them out of their slavery. Moses is a foreshadow of Jesus. Moses, the deliverer ended up having a confrontation at a much older stage in his life with the pharaoh. Some of us may recall that the pharaoh said, “I’m not letting these people go. They’re key to our economy.” Moses and the pharaoh had a confrontation.
There were certain things God would do through Moses. Things such as plagues, Pharaoh’s legs would buckle, but finally, in the end, Pharaoh broke. He broke over something that happened when God sent a death angel through the land and the firstborn were killed. Literally died. God told Israel to do something. He gave Moses a word. It will have a huge significance for what we just looked at. God said, “Before the night comes, I need you to take the blood of a lamb or a young goat and put it on the doorpost. Then stay inside and death will pass you by as the blood covers your doorway.”
I would like us to look at what he said. See if you can see the connection to the cross. Moses called all the elders of Israel together. He said to them, “Go pick out a lamb or young goat, each of your families, and slaughter it for the Passover. Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of…” There it is, hyssop. “Branches and dip it in the blood and use it like a paintbrush, and then let it save you from death. As the lamb is slain and the blood is applied over the door, the death will pass you by.” In this final moment, as Jesus is becoming the ultimate lamb, we recall the words of John the Baptist. The first words said when he saw Jesus were not, “There He is, the king of all eternity. There He is, the Son of God.” No. The first words that were said by John the Baptist, who welcomes Him in and starts his ministry off, was, “Behold, there He is, the lamb of God. The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Already at the outset, it was a reminder that Jesus was going to become the ultimate Passover lamb, setting us free. A redemption and utter freedom would come through His death, which brings us life.
The hyssop connection is amazing. In the same way that blood was applied, Jesus is giving His lifeblood. Jesus said, “It is finished.” That’s what had to be done and what we could never do for ourselves. God has done for us. That’s really the essence of it. Jesus pays the debt that we could never pay so that we might receive a gift that we could never earn. It’s the gift of God. It’s what we celebrate. Let’s pick back up with John 19. I want us to learn what happens after Jesus dies. It says, “When Jesus had tasted it, He said, ‘it is finished,’ and He bowed His head and He gave up His spirit.” It’s this idea of releasing it. “And it was the day of preparation.” The day of preparation means that it was the day they were preparing for the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders didn’t want the body. The Sabbath is a Friday, so Jesus dies on a Friday. We call it Good Friday because He died for us.
According to the teaching of the law and the custom of the Jews, on the Sabbath, they only had until sundown on Friday. No work could be done after that. No work could be done from sundown Friday to Saturday sundown. You had this one-day Sabbath that was honored and set aside. It was very important. This is going to color what happens. It says that it was the day of preparation, so it was daytime on Friday. The evening was approaching and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day because that would’ve been a violation of sorts. Besides, we’re told here it wasn’t just any Sabbath. Notice there’s a connection back to what we just read in Exodus. It was a very special Sabbath because it was Passover week. Again, connecting back to the first Passover when the lamb was slain and death passes by.
The Jewish leaders asked Pilot, the Roman governor, to hasten their deaths. They said, “You know what, we don’t want our laws violated.” Look how meticulous they were about the keeping of the law. Yet, an obvious exception reminds you that you can be so detailed and miss the larger piece. You can miss the larger issue. Here they were. The fact that Jesus had done nothing, was so physically violated and killed, meant nothing to them. What was more important was getting his body down before Sabbath. That was the bigger issue. That’s ironic. This is a testimony to human nature at its lowest point. It says, “Then the soldiers came and they broke the legs of the two men.” They needed them to die faster. The Jewish leaders asked Pilot if he could order their deaths to be hastened by ordering their legs to be broken.
This might get a little graphic but the cross was graphic. It was real, violent, and awful. Rome set it up. There’s a little quote in there that tells you a little bit about it. Typically, the way that Rome would hasten the death of criminals to linger would be to break their legs. They wanted them to die, not fast but slow. In fact, one of the things mentioned here in this particular quote is, “It took days for him to die. He might hang for days in the heat of midday, the victim, sun and cold of night, tortured by thirst and tortured by gnats and the flies crawling in the wheels, the stripes or the ridges of their torn back.” This phrase caught me, “Often men died raving mad on their crosses.” They were in utter pain and agony and allowed to suffer. So when the Jewish leaders, of whom Nicodemus and another man that we’re going to see were a part of that group, said, “Let’s just have their bones broken.” Initially, it looks harsh. But in a warped kind of way, they were trying to hasten their death. Albeit not out of compassion but because they didn’t want to violate the Sabbath. They were hoping if they weren’t dead already, that by breaking their legs they would die sooner. When a person was crucified, the legs held them up enough to breathe. You couldn’t breathe, so every time Jesus utters a word it costs Him something. The blood is already drying on His back that has been shredded. God’s humility is stunning. It says here that they ask for their bodies could be taken down.
The soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. When they came to Jesus, in verse 33 it says, “he was already dead so they didn’t bother to break the legs, just to double-check, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear. The liquid that had been building up, blood and water, flowed out of Him.” What do we do with the body of Jesus? Who’s going to come for it? Who has access to it? Who has the power to ask for it? What are they going to do? Is He going to be buried with the rest of the criminals in some nondescript place, spared the plight of those that the Romans typically threw to the dogs or wild beasts to devour in the night. We see two men emerge. One of whom we’ve been talking about. What’s interesting is what he was afraid to do, he finally does. He comes out of the shadows as it were. These two men decided they need to do something to at least honor Jesus.
In verse 38, “Afterwards, Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus because he feared the leaders.” They were his friends. His peers. His associates. They asked Pilot for permission to take Jesus’ body down. They took the body away after Pilot gave them permission to do so. Joseph did it. With him came Nicodemus, the man who would come to Jesus at night. What we see here is both of these men had believed in Jesus. They followed Him but were secret in their faith. They never wanted others to know that they were followers. It is like they were ashamed and scared of what it might cost them.
Some of us can relate to that in some smaller way. Maybe we’re in a climate where it’s not that easy to represent how we feel about Jesus. Maybe we fear it could cost us something and are reluctant to share. I know that’s not the case with many of us but it can be with some of us. Some of us might be able to relate to Nicodemus and Joseph, who’s the culture of the people that they were close to. They were their friends. Their families grew up together. They went to the same schools together. They shared the same interest, the love for the law. They were people whose lives were deeply intertwined. Yet they had a division because so many of them had rejected Jesus, even to the point where they were willing to sign off on His unjust death.
Joseph and Nicodemus believed in Jesus. They felt that if there was nothing else they could do because they refused to speak up when He was alive, at least now they would do something to honor Him in His death, as tragic as it was. They asked Pilot to permit them. Then with Joseph comes Nicodemus, the man who would come to Jesus. It says that he brought 75 pounds of perfumed ointment. This was what was used. Just the ointment alone was 75 pounds for a rapid embalming to take place with linen cloths. It was a quick way of cleaning and honoring Him in as much time as they possibly could. It says, “The day of preparation was coming and was nearing the Passover,” Joseph of Arimathea had, “a tomb in a garden that was very close.”
It was probably a tomb that he was going to use for himself but decided to give it to Jesus to honor Him. They rapidly took the body and carried it with tenderness. In my mind’s eye, I tried to think about that moment because remember they are the ones now that have the dead body of Jesus. That body doesn’t look like anything they would’ve recognized. It’s covered with dried blood. It’s bloated a little bit. It’s certainly swollen from the beatings. That’s what the Bible says. They were the ones that cleaned Him. Nicodemus is the one cleaning Him. The old man remembered walking in the streets to meet the one whose body was now here. There was nothing in it anymore. A tragedy.
Maybe a tear started coming down from the old man’s eye, splashing on the body as he tried with as much care as he could to clean and prepare Jesus. To rapidly, tenderly, with singular devotion, at least give Him something of an honor, for the man did not deserve this. We had believed in you. That moment, if you think about it, they didn’t have to do that. Other people would’ve rationalized, “Why bother? Why do this now? Clearly, whoever Jesus was, He wasn’t who He said He was. As bad as it is, it’s tragic. At least you know He’s not who He said. Is it really worth doing this right now?” Something in them felt compelled to honor Jesus, even though at this point they had nothing to gain. Lesser men would’ve backed away and said, “You know what? The pragmatic thing to do is just let this thing be. It’s sad but we wash our hands of it.” The practical thing would’ve been to walk away but they felt like they had to do something to honor Him. Perhaps they felt a little ashamed that they have never spoken up, but they would now.
That’s the teaching. Let’s apply it because remember part of what we’re doing here is getting ourselves ready for the week that’s coming. Here’s something I want us to think about. We’ll call this thought number one. Sometimes loss, even tragic loss, has a way of pulling good things out of us that would’ve otherwise remained dormant. In a strange way, the death of Jesus motivated them to do for Him what they never did when He was alive. It motivated them to push past their fear and to take a stand. I think there are some times when some types of adversity in our life, seasons of pain, seasons of loss or disappointment, we’re forced to deal with limitation, things die that we have loved, or we used to love can be hard. It could be dreams or relationships. They can be things that die inside of us. Those places that are hard.
One of the things we’re being taught here is, it can be a blessing in disguise. Not because of what it is but because of what it releases. The cross was awful. The irony. Don’t you think about it? People wear a cross that’s actually is like an electric chair; wearing a symbol of death. The only reason it has meaning now is that it wasn’t just death that was the final word over Jesus. It’s come to represent not only the love of God but the path across of life. The cross, the bridge to life. Otherwise, it just means absolute tragedy. When I look at this, I’m reminded again that many times God will use things in our lives. I think when we allow Him into our situations, bad chapters, tears, our agony, and our loss, we let His light shine upon it. Something awakens. Something grows.
I believe this with all my heart, life can flow from across. Life can flow out of death. I would say it even now. Are there some areas in our lives where we feel the struggle of life and death? Lord, we welcome. We welcome. I pray your resurrection power over all of us. The resurrection power of the life of God. May it come into the darkest places of our hearts. May it come into our deepest wounds. Lord, we welcome your life power even now, to come into our lives. You, whom death could not hold, do not let things of death grip our hearts. Amen. We welcome your resurrection power in us.
Part of what we’re doing is saying we are open. That death is not the final word. What is it? Where is the place where the shadow and the lie prevails? Where is the place where the hopelessness is? Where is that place? Let the power of the living Jesus come and welcome it in. It may not come all the way right away the way we think it will, but it will come. Ours is a way of hope. Not a way of death. It is the end but a way of life. It always has been. Because of Jesus, it always will be. Nothing need bind us down. Here’s the other thing to recognize. Notice what they did. I think it’s a small point but it’s a meaningful one. It has huge implications. For anybody who wants to sincerely follow Jesus, this has huge implications. Notice they came together as friends. Nicodemus and Joseph expressed their courage and devotion together as friends. What they could not do alone by themselves, together they pulled their courage and stepped out.
There is something about that dynamic. The Bible says two is better than one. A threefold court is uneasily broken. When Jesus sends out the disciples, He sends them out not by themselves, but by two, at least. Not alone. There are some things in this Christian life of following the Lord, that are going to throw stuff at us. When it comes to following Jesus, making real gains in our lives at a deep level, fighting through things because you know, I don’t have to tell you this but, we live in a toxic culture. It’s a great time to be alive. It’s a dangerous time to be alive. Not necessarily always physically in our land but so many things emotionally. It’s so easy to fall into addictions and be bound by stuff. Constantly, always things yelling at us, calling us, wooing us, wanting to entrap us into places. I’m just being honest. We need the life of Jesus more than ever at work in our lives. Let us be free. Free to love. Free to become the men and women God wants us to be. That’s going to mean at times we’re going to need to make adjustments. Many times, it’s going to mean we’re going to need to make sure we have other people who want to follow and love the Lord in our lives.
I was talking to a few people and said, “You know what? We need all kinds of different friends but we definitely need our closest friends, if at all possible, to be people who love the Lord so that we can sharpen one another, be there for one another, strengthen one another, and pray for one another. We’re not always going to be strong at the same time. We have to have enough trust and enough vulnerability, which is based on that trust, to be able to share our hearts. If we can’t do that, then there are going to be things that are going to get hard.” Look at Nicodemus with his friend, they could do this. On their own, they were afraid. Together they were able to do it. If you look at this closely, one of the things that’s also clear to me is how God will use a relationship and how that relationship can create synergy so we become stronger than just who we would be individually. If you just took our strength, my strength, and your strength, added it up, it would equal this. If you put it together it actually creates an additional layer of strength. There’s something about the value of having another, or others, who will love the Lord and who can challenge us when we need it.
One of the most challenging things that I’ve watched over the years, and I’ve been watching this now for decades, is a tendency when we fail to want to isolate ourselves. It will show up in the life of Peter. It shows up with Judas as well. We tend to want to isolate when we fail or it gets absolutely painful or when we struggle and feel defeated. We pull away but God wants us to move forward, as painful and challenging it is. It’s there where His grace often comes. I know what it’s going to sound like but it’s true. Sometimes just getting to the Lord’s house is what will sustain us. It takes courage for some people to come to His house or to hear His words when we’re in a certain place. When it would be easy just to drift away. God will honor that courage. A lot of times, I’ve found that when we take that step, even when we don’t feel like it, God sends something of life to us and it becomes a powerful dynamic for us.
The third and final thing is how we finish matters more than how we start. That’s good news. It doesn’t mean that how we start doesn’t matter. Because starting can affect how we finish. Nicodemus starts in the shadows. He’s afraid. He’s ashamed. Stealth. Quiet. Set the appointment up. Don’t let anybody know about it. He’s tentative, very careful, and cautious. He doesn’t want to be seen. He doesn’t want to be known. He doesn’t want anybody to know about it. He starts in the shadows. He ends up in the light. He declares himself. Judas starts out in the light and ends up in the shadows. He ends up denying the Lord. So does Peter for that matter. Judas and Peter both end up denying Jesus, just in different ways. We know because it says, “He went out by himself and started weeping bitter tears.” Don’t think for a moment he didn’t have thoughts of suicide.
The thing he prized the most, he had violated. His loyalty. His code. He’s a broken man in shambles.The Bible says, whether it was John or Peter, I don’t know who found who but there it goes back to that other point. John finds Peter or Peter finds John. They end up together. John helps him get through that point and eventually, God says, “What you saw as your worst moment has become the doorway to a new Peter that will be more profoundly capable of affecting people in ways for my kingdom than you would’ve ever imagined when you only knew how strong you were and did not know how much you really needed me.” It was a big change. It’s a reminder that God is in this business of helping us finish things. It’s very encouraging because we’re going to have patches in life where it’s not that easy all the time. If you can, remember this, the Christian life is not a sprint. It’s a long-haul run, and the capacity to endure is prized over speed.
Let’s Look at the last verse for today. Let’s see how it rounds it all together. “Therefore, since we’re surrounded by such an amazing cloud of witnesses, people who’ve gone before us and showed us how to live a life of faith. Let us lay aside every weight, every sin which so easily entraps us, and instead let us run with endurance, with patience, this race that has been set before us, and whenever we need to be inspired about how to do it, let us look to Jesus, who is the originator, the author, the completer, the beginner, the finisher, of our faith. When we plant ourselves in Him, He who has run the race exactly how it needs to be run will help us run our race as well, for He showed us how to even go through a cross and He went through it. Even now He has defeated. He’s despised the shame. He set down the very glory of the living God.”
As we head into this week, I’m going to ask us to do a few things. How do we embrace this moment? How do we run this week well? I would like us to consider doing a few things. One of them is to consider during these next few days how we can honor Jesus. I would like us to think about, “How can I honor you this week, Lord? I mean really try to get my heart in a good place where some of the power of the living Christ can meet me in a way that is distinct and unusual. Partly because so many people in the world are moving towards the same objective and there’s power there.” Think about reading at different times of this week, divvying it up, John 13-21.
On Friday we have a Good Friday service. We realize not everybody’s going to make it. Even if everybody could, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We are having a Livestream and realize that if you want to watch it, you can do that. Here’s the thing, whether you watch the service or you can participate in it, we focus on the cross. On Friday, be intentional about thanking the Lord for what He did for us on the cross. Remember how much he suffered. Remember how much He understands pain. Remember how much God gave out of his love. He who was afar came near so that we who are afar could be brought near. It’s all about what God does. He initiates the love. We just respond. The love shows up in a cross. That’s the bridge of life.
Think and pray about who we’re supposed to invite for Easter and when we’re supposed to bring them. Step out. Let it be known we love Him. Lastly, I will say, let’s say, “Lord, help us to live this week well for you. Help us to watch our words, to watch what we’re letting come into us. Help us to say, Hey, maybe this week I’m really going to try to honor God with my conduct, with the things that I watch, with the way that I present myself, with the way that I react to people. I’m going to ask you, Lord, to help me honor you this week so that by the time I get to Easter, I know I’m not perfect but I will be more intentional about moving into this moment. My heart will be ready and prepared. I’ll ask you to give me the grace to do this to the best of my abilities to honor you well because you deserve it.” Let’s see what happens.
Let me pray. Lord, I thank you because you give us this great opportunity to follow you. Your love for us is relentless. Your words are true. Yes, and amen they are. I ask that you would allow these things to penetrate into us in a good way. Help us to strengthen ourselves. I am asking that part of what will happen this week is we honor you. As we draw near to you, you’ll draw near to us. I just feel like, Lord, give us more of your resurrection power. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave. Raise us, Lord, up on the inner places and strengthen the corridors of our heart, in our wounded places. Help us, Lord, in our weakness. We thank you. We glory in you and what you’ve done for us. We thank you that in the end, it’s about you, not us. May this stir our hearts to want us to honor you better. It’s not an excuse or a cop-out. It’s saying, “Lord, you’re the one and we need you. In a world of independence, we give you our heart.” I ask that you would bless these closing minutes to the psalm that’s connecting our time of giving, that we honor you as a people, together. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.