John 19:31

Sermon preached on April 23, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In my prison Bible Study a few years ago an old black man who told me an incident that took place in his life. He related that when he a very young boy there was an old man in his village that no one treated well. No one was nice to him. He didn't give me many details about what the man was like but from the way that people treated him it was like he was the village idiot. He was not liked. He was regularly insulted, belittled and disparaged. As a little boy he witnessed this day after day. Then unexpectedly, the old man that everyone denigrated died. The little boy, like everyone else in the village, went to the old man's funeral. He said he was amazed at what the funeral was like. It totally shocked him. He said that everyone was prim and proper and that they were scrupulous in making sure that everything they did was perfect. They carried the coffin with great care and precision. He also said that everything said about the old man was kind and flattering. I think none of us adults would be surprised at that—but if you put yourself in the place of the young boy—he was shocked by it. Being a naïve young fellow, he went to the funeral thinking that the things that were said about the old man while he was alive would also be said at the funeral. He was shocked when they weren't. He said that he found it so unbelievable that they weren't kind or caring toward the man when he was alive, but they were that way at his funeral—when it was too late, when it really didn't count. Much of what was done at the funeral was not done out of respect for the old man, but it was done to make the fake mourners feel good about themselves.

Isn't it strange how human being sometimes behave? We can be so scrupulous about little things while we miss and ignore the most important things.

We see that in our text. Consider the Jews here. In verse 31 we read,

"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
the legs broken and
the bodies taken down."

Crucifixion was a very terrible death. It was used on people that the Romans really wanted to punish. A Roman citizen was not allowed to be crucified. Crucifixion was designed to bring about a great degree of suffering. It was designed to kill slowly. Sometimes the person who was crucified died over a period of days. Andreas J. Köstenberger tells us that the breaking of the shinbone, (John, BECNT;, 552)

"prevented the person from prolonging life by pushing himself up with his legs in order to breathe. Arm strength soon failed, and asphyxiation ensued."

The Jews were really concerned that the command in Deuteronomy 21:23, about a body not being allowed to hang on a tree overnight, that it be buried the same day. They were scrupulous in obeying that commandment. They were very concerned about it and went to Pilate and asked him to break their legs and have their bodies taken down.

Yet what didn't concern them at all was the fact that they were the main ones that were behind the murder of Jesus. This is incredible. They were not at all troubled with their role in murdering Jesus. They had plotted to kill Him. They handed Him over to Pilate to be tried. Pilate declared that Jesus was innocent. But they would have nothing of that. When Pilate asked them what should be done with Jesus, they cried, (Matthew 27:22–25)

"'Crucify him!' 'Why?
What crime has he committed?'
asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder,
'Crucify him!'
When Pilate saw that
he was getting nowhere, but
that instead an uproar was starting,
he took water and washed his hands
in front of the crowd.'
I am innocent of this man's blood,'
he said.
'It is your responsibility!'
All the people answered,
'Let his blood be on us
and on our children!' "

The Jews were happy to have full responsibility for killing an innocent man. Yet they did not want His body to be left on the cross. They were very concerned about that. John Calvin writes that the Jews,

"as is usually the case with hypocrites, direct their whole attention to small matters, and yet pass by the greatest crimes without any hesitation; for, in order to a strict observance of their Sabbath, they are careful to avoid outward pollution; and yet they do not consider how shocking a crime it is to take away the life of an innocent man."

There are many important lessons for us here.

First of all, it shows

you can't trust yourself.

You can't trust your conscience. Your conscience can lead you astray. Your conscience can allow the greatest hypocrisy. You see it all the time in hypocrites. How can they be so two-faced? It's because their conscience has failed them.

On August 25, 2005 Lance Armstrong did a TV interview with Larry King. Even then there were some allegations that Armstrong was doping. The rumor at the time was that one or more of his blood samples from 1999 were tainted. Armstrong denied that he was doping and said he wasn't losing any sleep over those allegations. Armstrong said,

"I judge a lot of things by how I sleep. I don't have a problem sleeping. I get eight or nine hours a night. I don't have a problem looking at myself in the mirror."

Can one trust your sleep patterns to judge whether your conduct is correct or not? Lance Armstrong's lesson for us is—obviously not! I don't know if anyone has done a study on the sleep patterns of really bad people. But it wouldn't surprise me if such a study came back saying that they didn't have any trouble sleeping.

Even if your conscience helps you at one time, does that mean that your conscience is good and that it'll help you in the future? Does that mean that you can say to yourself,

"My conscience is good. I can rely on it. I know that it'll never lead me astray."

No. It doesn't mean that. A couple of incidents from David's life show us this. Early in his life he was conscience stricken for having cut of a piece of King Saul's robe, when Saul was pursing him and trying to kill him. But later, after he became king, he does terrible things to Uriah the Hittite. He betrays him by sleeping with his wife Bathsheba. He is then dishonest with him in calling him home from the front in order to get a report on how things are going on the battlefield. David really wanted Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife so that his sin of adultery won't be discovered. But Uriah doesn't go home. The next day David invites him to dine with him and gets Uriah drunk. But even after that Uriah doesn't go home. So David gets Uriah to take a message back to Joab. That message was Uriah's death warrant. Can you imagine the betrayal in giving the order for Uriah to be killed? Can you imagine David's betrayal in getting Uriah to carry that message?

David did all those things and none of them seemed to bother him. David's conscience was of no help to him. Even when Nathan the prophet went to David and told him a story about a rich man oppressing a poor man—David became indignant at the behavior of the rich man and declared that he deserved to die. How shocking it must have been to David when Nathan replied, (2 Samuel 12:7)

"You are the man!"

All of us can be like that. We are scrupulous about little things and we ignore far greater wrongs. Today we have people who have great concern about the ethical treatment of animals. I know people who won't kill a spider, a fly, or a ladybug. If they find one in their house they'll try and capture it and put it outside without harming it. Yet many people who hold such positions are pro-choice when it comes to abortion. They support abortion rights. Abortion as the single biggest mass killing phenomenon in human history. Yet they support it. Such people are just like the people who went to Pilate asking him to take the bodies down before the Sabbath. They are scrupulous about lesser things and falter in major things.

We're all like that. It's in our nature. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus said,

"Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You give a tenth of your spices—
mint, dill and cummin.
But you have neglected
the more important matters of the law
—justice, mercy and faithfulness.
You should have practiced the latter,
without neglecting the former."

You can't trust your conscience. You can't trust your sleep patterns. Today we have many bad pieces of advice that are passed off as wisdom. We are told to 'follow your heart', 'let your heart be your guide', 'follow your instincts', 'trust your gut', 'be true to yourself'. That's all nonsense. Your heart can lead you far astray. Your instincts can be all wrong. Being true to yourself is bad advice when it is given to us—who are corrupt, polluted sinners.

You can do terrible things to other people and still think that you're pleasing to God. You can inflict unspeakable horrors on other people and your conscience might not bother you one bit. In certain circumstances you could murder someone and you may be able to sleep like a baby. 1 Timothy 4:2 talks about hypocritical liars,

"whose consciences
have been seared as with a hot iron."

You can even use your gender to make yourself feel good and miss some major failings. A few years ago a famous actress gave a speech and basically said that if mothers were running the world there would be no wars. The idea was that women are more virtuous than men. She was pontificating on the moral superiority of women over men.

Did she not know about Athaliah? Athaliah was one of the most vile creatures who ever lived. When her son King Ahaziah was killed by Jehu, king of Israel, Athaliah seized the opportunity to gain power. The only thing that stood between her and the kingdom were some of her relatives. 2 Kings 11:1 tells us what she did.

"When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah
saw that her son was dead,
she proceeded to destroy
the whole royal family."

She almost eradicated the whole Davidic dynasty. It is likely she even killed some of her own grandchildren. Yet some people think that being a woman prevents them from being evil.

But enough about other people. What about you? What major commands are you leaving undone?

What about loving your enemies? Do you love them? Or are you like the people Jesus criticized—they only loved their friends? Do you love your enemies? Do you love the people who hate you? Do you love the people who hate everything you stand for as a Christian?

Do you care for the poor? Or do you look down upon them as being lazy, as lacking initiative? Do you have deep, abiding compassion for the poor? Do you help them?

Do you forgive people when they sin against you? Are you merciful to them? Do you show them kindness and compassion?

Are you concerned about changing what you're like inside? Or are you like the people Jesus criticized who were only concerned about outward appearances? Are you working on changing your attitudes to bring them in line with God's teaching? Are you concerned with being pure within? Have you said 'no' to porn? Have you said 'no' to so much of the impurity that our world is throwing at you?

Secondly, our text shows us

how much we need the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

We need the Word of God to guide us. How much we need it to evaluate our actions. How much we need the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds so that we can see and turn from our sins. In Matthew 23:16 Jesus referred to the teachers of the law and Pharisees as,

"blind guides!"

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul said,

"The god of this age has blinded
the minds of unbelievers,
so that they cannot see the light
of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God."

We need to be delivered from this blindness. Only the Holy Spirit can give sight. As Paul continued in verse 6 of 2 Corinthians 4,

"For God, who said,
'Let light shine out of darkness,'
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

We don't naturally see our huge moral failings on our own. We are often blind to them. We need to use the Word as a mirror, (James 1:23) to shows us our failings, to show us where we need to improve.

Jesus came to bring light, to show us our sins, to show us how to love others, to show us the Father. We need the Spirit to guide is in all truth. In John 16:13 Jesus said,

"But when he, the Spirit of truth,
comes, he will guide you into all truth."

The Spirit gives us freedom and sets us from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

Without God to help us, without the Spirit, without the Word—we are lost, groping around in darkness. We need the Spirit to lead us in holiness.

Thirdly, this shows us

how much we need to be transformed by Jesus.

Illumination isn't enough. It's wasn't enough for Jesus to come and show us how to live. We needed to be made new. In John 3:19 John wrote,

"This is the verdict:
Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light
because their deeds were evil."

What was wrong with these men who asked that the bodies be taken down from the cross? It wasn't just that they were blind to their sin. The problem was that their hearts were evil.

What we need is God's transforming power. This was promised in Ezekiel 36:26. God said,

"I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you
your heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh."

Jesus came to give us new life. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone,
the new has come!"

We see that in Zacchaeus. After he came to know Jesus he (Luke 19:8)

"stood up
and said to the Lord,
'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half
of my possessions to the poor,
and if I have cheated
anybody out of anything,
I will pay back four times the amount.' "

His life was transformed. He was a new man.

Jesus died on the cross to give us new life. He died to give us the Spirit. He wasn't just a good teacher. He wasn't just a good example for us about how to live. Jesus died to take the curse that was against us. He died to give us life, new life. He died to redeem us, to set us free, to bring us to God as His people, with new hearts.

Thus the third lesson is,

let us live the new life in Christ.

Sin is a terrible thing. In the Old Testament dead bodies were a curse. In a very real way, living sinners are a curse to the land. But Jesus became a curse for us. This means that we should stop living as a curse. We should live such lives that we become a blessing to all around us.

Jesus came to give us new life. He came to give us a life where we love other people, where we stop mistreating other people, where we do justice, where we turn the other cheek. In short—He came to deliver us from being a curse so that we can be a blessing to other people.

If you're not a Christian— you can't accomplish this by trying harder. You can't accomplish it by wishing for it, by using the power of positive thinking? No. You're dead in trespasses and sins. You need Jesus, you need the forgiveness of sins that only He can give. You need the new life that only He can give. Go to Him today.