Today, as we continue our conversation through the book of John, we come to Jesus’ death. We have spent 34 weeks to get to this point in the story.
This pinnacle moment in the story can be a moment to fly past--can we get to the resurrection of Jesus, please?!? But this is such an important moment to see, to feel, and to process how it is connected to us. So we are going to navigate into that today.
John has been walking us towards his objective all along:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
Folklore is the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth. What is some of your family's folklore? What story has been passed down from person to person and even from generation to generation?
As we get into this question, realize that there’s a spectrum of different stories when it comes to family histories--probably really good/fun/funny stories and probably some really terrible/sad/un-fun stories. Be aware of the width of experiences as we jump into this.
What is some of your family's folklore?
Family folklore can be fun, funny, interesting. It can be forgotten or passed down. It can inform you about your past and about who you are. It can seem to have no impact on you, or it can have a direct impact on you.
We all have family moments--folklore--that has been forgotten, not passed down, not talked about, and probably not understood, that has significant impact on you today. Ancient moments or recent moments. Even apart from your knowing or understanding the story, it has impact on you personally.
Today we come to a moment that is definitely part of our Christian folklore. And the word folklore can be used to represent something that’s just a myth. Just a story. Not real.
We’ll get more into this conversation, but some of the foundations of Christianity are things that are seen as very real. Not a myth. Things that actually happened. But we’ll get deeper into the “whys” and the “hows.”
Remember what folklore is: the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth.
There is a simplistic way to look at Jesus’ life here on earth--a simplistic way to process it towards John’s objective: Let me tell you what happened. Let me tell you what to believe. Jesus was born of a virgin. He was truly God and man. He lived a perfect life. Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice for my sin and rose from the dead three days later. He ascended into heaven. Got it? Good. (Ha.)
Now, let me tell you--I have faith that all of these things are in fact true. But here is a question that is easy to avoid, because it is difficult, but it is so important.
I am going to ask it and give you time to process this, but don’t feel overwhelmed with answering it, and don’t feel pressure to give the “right” answer.
Why are these moments important to Christianity?
- Jesus was born of a virgin
- Jesus was truly God and man
- Jesus lived a perfect life
- Jesus died on a cross as a sacrifice for my sin
- Jesus rose from the dead three days later
- Jesus ascended into heaven
Now that I have let you wallow in that question for a while, I think you are probably better informed and equipped to ask this next question:
Why is it easy to mindlessly accept or simply dismiss these declarations?
What is the cost of mindlessly accepting or simply dismissing these declarations?
We’ve had lots of text over the last 34 weeks and here’s another chunk. I encourage you to just sit in it and let your questions and thoughts come to the surface. For a moment, let go of mindless acceptance or dismissal. Just sit and allow. Notice.
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The 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. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 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. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:28-42)
So many whys in this. Processing the whys can help us to not be so mindless. And not just here. Think about everything we’ve read in John up to this point.
Why did Jesus become a man?
Why was Jesus so cryptic in so many things He said?
Why did Jesus upset so many things and yet not fight for control?
Why did Jesus invest in all the people who were outsiders or unworthy?
Why did Jesus heal people and perform miracles?
Why did Jesus not react in intense moments like his arrest?
Why were there so many prophecies in the Old Testament that Jesus connected with?
Why did Jesus say “it is finished” right before He died instead of when He came back to life?
Why did Jesus take this route?
Why didn’t Jesus save himself?
Why didn’t Jesus drink some wine that would dull His pain?
Why did He drink the wine that would keep him conscious?
Why didn’t Jesus die and then immediately jump off the cross?
Why did Jesus stay dead for three days?
Why did Jesus come back to life?
Why does everything Jesus did seem to be chosen, not something done to Him?
This is another list that we could just turn into trying to get the right answers even if we don’t understand. But we’re aiming for understanding. There is a great cost to just mindlessly answering these questions. I wonder if God allows so much time in our faith processing simply because He doesn’t want us to be mindless.
Really sit in these “whys.”
And really sit in today’s text. Why did Jesus die? Why did He choose this, or why did He say yes to something that He knew was literally pain and death?
Some would say that Jesus’ death shows our depravity. That Jesus came and lived perfectly and then died because we’re all dirty sinners with barely any worth. But that doesn’t make any sense to me. If we didn’t have worth, why would someone give up their perfect life to have connection with us?
Think about value. The value of something is what we’re willing to pay for it. No one pays a lot for worthless things, unless you get tricked. What we’re willing to pay for something is the value we would put on it.
And we see that Jesus was willing to pay His own perfect life for connection with us. That must mean we’re awfully valuable to God. And it’s the value He’s spoken over us and over all of humanity since creation--that we were valuable enough in His mind for Him to create us in His image. It’s not that we did anything special or earned it. God did all of this in creation before we had a say in it. Our value is set by Him.
And through the process of the whys and the hows, you may be asking, did this really happen? And If this happened, what does it mean to me?
Sit in that if you need to. Anyone who chooses to follow Jesus needs to process this apart from mindless declaration or just getting the right answers.
This is where faith really happens, in these big questions that we really can’t get a definitive answer for. Because just like our family folklores, we could spend our entire lives trying to learn every piece and to know every single thing there is to know about God and we don’t have enough time for it all. Or even if we did, we’d likely forget things as we’re learning new things.
When I think about my relationship with my parents, the folklore that my family has, I can’t recall everything right at this moment. I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, and I know there are thousands of bits of information out there waiting to be discovered. But neither my forgetfulness nor my not having all the information should keep me from having relationships with my family members.
In faith, in following Jesus, as we have faith that these things we’ve read about happened, we will still have unknowns. We will have things we forget. But those things shouldn’t keep us from pursuing a relationship or even from asking the question, “What is a relationship with Jesus for?”
What is the purpose of relationship with Jesus?
Processing all that happened at Jesus' death is so important. But in our preparation we came to a realization of a pivotal moment. We need to address the tension of this moment.
Jesus’ death changes everything; it has huge impact on our now and not yet--on today and eternity.
Faith in that impact is not contingent on complete understanding.
Faith in this world-changing moment is asking of us that we would seek deeper understanding.
Here is a question for you to process. In this tension:
What aspect of Jesus’ do you want to know more about?
What roadblocks keep you from knowing more?
But how? And not just getting the answers but actually knowing something and choosing to put my trust in it.
Paul in 1 Corinthians is processing this:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Peter processes this:
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25)
Paul processed the freedom:
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
Paul processed the demonstration of love:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
In my faith process, I hear this reverberating:
Don’t stop asking questions about things that don’t make sense or are unknown,
Don’t let things that don’t make sense or are unknown keep you from the relationship with God that is available as you walk through process.
And as we come into the last question for the day, hold it in tension with the reality that it comes with hundreds of questions. But maybe just take a moment, not to get rid of questions, but just to set them aside and to allow faith to drive things. In the midst of all of the questions and unknowns, what does Jesus’ death actually represent? For me, for our church, for the church around the world, for people who don’t follow Jesus right now?
Today, moving the folklore of Jesus’ death from “story” to “story that has personal impact,” this question is for us:
What does Jesus’ death do for me?
What does Jesus’ death do for us?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read John 19:28-42.
- Do you want something witty, funny, profound, insightful, beautiful, thoughtful, long, or short written on your tombstone? Why?
- What stands out to you about Jesus’ experience on the cross?
- What do you think has changed in Nicodemus’ life from his appearance in John 3?
- How do you think Jesus' death changed Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea?
- How has Jesus' death changed you?
Bible Reading Plan
- Numbers 21
- Numbers 22
- Numbers 23
- John 13
- John 14
- John 15