Never a Death Like This Death

John 19:25-30 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 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. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Never before had dying been done with so much life. I couldn’t have grasped that in my early 20’s. I can now. You know what changed? I became a pastor. And the minute I became a pastor, I started to watch people die. Seriously. Week one of my pastorate, I drove to the hospital to minister to a dying woman. The next day I sat with the grieving family. I was thinking about that earlier today and did some back of the napkin calculating. I figure that since I became a pastor I’ve been with well over a 100 people who were hours and in some cases minutes away from death. I know what it’s like to watch the quiet rise and fall of a rib cage expecting it to stop at any moment. I’ve heard the death rattle. I know what someone looks like when they’re dying. And that’s why I know it’s never been done like this.

Just think. Jesus buttons up his family affairs while on the cross. That’s stunning behavior. Behavior we should think twice about. John obviously did. It’s why he actually gets this down for us as something worth knowing about right here in the context of Jesus’ death. I suppose you could talk about Jesus’ heart that loves his mother. I suppose you could talk about how cares for her and continues to provide for her after he’s gone. And it is worth talking about that. But we wouldn’t have to learn this here and we wouldn’t have to learn it now. John is obviously trying to teach us something not just about what Jesus cares about, but also the manner of his death.

Here’s what I mean. No lawyer. No financial advisor in their right mind advises behavior like this. You don’t wait to do and say things you care about until you’re dying - it’s too unpredictable - you do it well before then. You get a health directive before you get sick. You deal with power of attorney before you’re dying. You get a will written up before you ever sense death approach. Because you never know how or when it’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to be in possession of yourself. You don’t know if you’ll be in your right mind. But Jesus? He waits until he’s dying to button up the family affairs. To stun us. To help us see he’s in command. He’s in control even as he dies.

That’s why he said, “I am thirsty too.” Maybe you noticed John plays omniscient narrator here telling us why Jesus said what he said. “Later, knowing that all was completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled Jesus...” (v. 28) I can tell you with a whole lot of confidence based on over a hundred experiences of this that this isn’t how people think when they’re this close to death. You know what the truth is? They don’t. When someone is minutes away from dying, their body is grasping and clawing. Their heart is pumping and their lungs are trying to function. The best you might get is a hallucinated thought or a single lucid word. And that’s it. But Jesus…. he’s processing at a whole different level. He’s lucidly understanding, “All is now completed.” He’s even pulling out of his memory banks a prophecy from Psalm 69 in the Bible thinking to himself. “Psalm 69 says that I’m supposed to be thirsty and ask for a drink now.” And so then after all of this memory pulling and lucid understanding he manages to clearly articulate to the world right on cue, “I am thirsty.”

And then comes the most stunning verse of all. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” After announcing to the world that his work was done, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Do you see how stunning that is? How totally and mind bendingly different this death is? Did you see it? He bows his head. He clearly chooses the moment. Jesus wasn’t going to have the head of his corpse inelegantly crash down upon his chest. He sets it there. It’s only after that that we’re told, “He gave up his spirit.” There’s no Grim Reaper here. No guy hunting Jesus down dressed in black with his scythe in his hand forcibly taking his soul out of his body. There’s nothing like that. Jesus’ spirit didn’t sadly leave him. It wasn’t taken out of his body against his will. Jesus’ soul was given. It was something that Jesus clearly chose to do.

Obviously, this is a desperately important point of teaching for John. He tells us about Jesus buttoning up his family affairs. He tells us how Jesus processed deep memories, lucidly understands his circumstances, and articulates clearly. He tells us how Jesus set his head on his chest because he has chosen his moment and he specifically tells us that Jesus gave up his spirit - that it wasn’t taken from him. That’s John’s dying Jesus. John’s Jesus is a Jesus in full possession of himself, his life, his mind, his spirit. John’s Jesus is a Jesus to whom death did not come. John’s Jesus is a Jesus who chose his moment, who picked his time, and only then gave the gift. Never before had dying been done with so much life.

And that’s the point. Jesus isn’t some sad victim of Roman politics. He’s not some unfortunate example of what happens when good people stay silent. He’s not even the first and forever archetype of what it means to be a pacifist in the face of aggression. You know who he is? He’s God. Even as he dies, he is clearly and abundantly God. He has divinity pulsing through him. He has infinity running through his veins. He has omniscience flooding his mind - even as he dies. Or if you want to use biblical metaphors. He’s the lamb being led to the slaughter, yes! He’s also the Lion of the tribe of Judah ruling the world. He’s stricken, smitten, and afflicted - the Man of Sorrows - truly he is. He’s also the Holy One of Israel, the Glorious One, the Only God. It’s this Jesus who while in full control of his life, his faculties, and his infinitely valuable body and soul makes the calculated choice to give it all up.

Tell me that doesn’t rock you to your core. Tell me that doesn’t stun you. Tell me that doesn’t make your heart skip a beat and move you as you’ve never been moved before. Because you like me see it. You do the spiritual math. You work backwards from the payment to estimate the cost. And you like me get it. You hear Jesus pray leading up to this moment, “Father, if you’re willing, take this cup away.” “Father, if there’s another way for the cup of sin to be poured out, to be dealt with, to be done away this. Father, please.” And then you see with me the Father’s answer. Jesus’ bowed head, resting on his chest. His life gone. Snuffed out. Dead.

And you like me, we can’t pretend anymore. Our selfish ambition, our part in bad marriages, our laziness, sexual dalliances, etc., etc. We just can’t pretend that we’re by any means good in a way that actually qualifies as good. We can’t believe that with a little therapy we’ll be better. We can’t imagine that with a dose of positive thinking and with a booster shot in the arm of will power that we can make God happy. We can’t fabricate and try to indoctrinate ourselves with the always popular idea that, “I’m not so bad. I’ve just made some unfortunate choices.” We can’t pretend anymore. No matter how hard people may try to rebrand him, John’s Jesus isn’t a happiness guru, or a master psychotherapist, or the ultimate motivational speaker, or the perfect life coach. John’s Jesus is a dying God.

One who finished the job. Totally. Completely. Perfectly. Ultimately. You get the picture. So many folks don’t get that. They hear Jesus say with his dying breath, “It is finished.” And they think he means, “I finished my work. Now you do your part.” And they totally miss the incredible gospel message here. This wasn’t ever about Jesus doing his job. This was always about Jesus doing your job. Or to say it another way, Jesus’ job is your job. That’s the whole point of the gospel. Jesus wasn’t born to show us how to get it done. Jesus was born because we couldn’t get it done. Jesus didn’t come to us so we’d finally come to him. He came to us because we couldn’t come to him. Jesus’ job is our job. That’s the gospel. And it’s finished. It’s done. Totally. Completely. Perfectly. Ultimately.

That’s John’s whole point. Never before had dying been done with so much life. So much power. So much infinitude. So much divinity. And the result? So much forgiveness. So much grace.  Sin finished Jesus so that it will never finish you. Amen.

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