Rock Of Ages Cleft For Me – John 19:31-37

Rock Of Ages Cleft For Me

Nick Esch, 10/14/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

This morning as we continue working our way through the narrative of the cross, my desire is for us to bask in the radiance of the glory of Christ; I want you to see Jesus for who He is and what He has done… And that’s what the gospel is: the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ… It’s the good news that angels long to look in to… And why wouldn’t they? The gospel is like a glorious diamond, with an infinite amount of beautiful facets, each pointing us to the majesty of Jesus… Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, in reference to the gospel, that, “This is the most interesting, the most thrilling, the most absorbing subject in the universe.” And indeed it is…

The gospel, Jesus, and the cross of Christ is where salvation is found… It’s where hope is found… It’s where our identity is found… It’s where the battle against sin is won… It’s where meaning is given to suffering… It’s where we see true righteousness and justice, as well as glorious grace… It’s where we see the God of the universe enter into our story and our shame, and take our sin and our guilt, and pay it all… He purchases our redemption… He puts sin and death to death… The One who is the radiance of the glory of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the infinitely holy One, the perfectly righteous One, the One who is so glorious that when we truly see Him for who He is—face to face—we are made like Him, the One who is so supremely glorious that one day we will have no need of sun or moon because we will bask in the radiance of His glory; the One who is so big, mighty, and glorious, that the most big and glorious things in creation point to Him: mountains, rivers, oceans, the night sky and the vast amount of stars, planets and galaxies in space; this One who created all of these things and the One whom all of these things point to, humbled Himself and died in our place… He took our cross, took our sin, took our death, and took the wrath we deserve upon Himself, in order to reconcile us to Himself; He did this so that we could enjoy Him forever—eternal life and eternal joy with our eternally glorious Savior, King Jesus… There is nothing more amazing than this; and if we would see it rightly; if we would be captivated by this, it would change everything… So let’s marvel at this good news together… If angels long to look at this good news why shouldn’t we? So let’s look at John 19:31-37 together…

John 19:31–37

Our passage begins by setting the context for us. In verse 31 we read, “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.” Here we see it’s the day of preparation for the Passover… It’s the week of the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread: a celebration looking back to how God passed over Israel in Egypt because of the blood of a spotless Lamb, and then led them out of bondage… It’s the Friday before this special Passover Sabbath, or high Sabbath (the Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday)… This is the day that has come to be known as Good Friday, because it’s the day that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners…

Jesus and two others have been suffering the agonies of crucifixion, but now the Jews want to make sure that everything is in order for the coming Sabbath… And according to Jewish Law, in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, a man hung on a tree, or in this case crucified is cursed by God, and if He’s left on the cross overnight that curse defiles the land around Him… So the Jews, worried about the Sabbath and the Passover, and concerned with the letter of the Law ask Pilate to break the legs of the three men on the cross… This was done to speed up the process of death… If you remember from last week, when your arms are so stretched out and nailed to the cross, and you begin to fall forward from exhaustion, not only does it create extreme pain in your hands and arms, but it actually causes your lungs and chest to become so closed off that you can’t breathe. So then you have to support your body weight with your feet, and push up with your legs so that you can breathe; but if your legs are broken, then you can’t do that, and you’ll eventually suffocate and die… So the Jews are asking Pilate to have his soldiers shatter the shins of those on the cross with hammers—that’s how they did it—so that they would die… This was not an act of mercy on their part, but of convenience… For the sooner they die, the sooner they’ll be taken down, and the Jews can go about their business…

         What an incredibly sad sight… The Jews here are so worried about following the Law that they miss Who the Law points to; they’re so worried about the Passover, that they miss the true Passover… As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Christ is our Passover lamb, that has been sacrificed… This was happening right before their eyes, yet they missed it… They were familiar with Scripture, and in many ways they sought to live out its ethics and morals, but essentially they missed the forest for the trees… And beloved, this is still all too common today…

Sure, there are people that are outright against God and His Word, but there are also many people today (in our context especially) who will rant and rave about the 10 Commandments being in courtrooms and other public places; they’ll push to have, “In God we trust,” on the back of police cars and such, but at the end of the day they really have no concern for Jesus at all… Or, there are others who are very familiar with God’s Word: perhaps they grew up in church, or still go to church every Sunday; they know all the famous Bible stories taught in Sunday school; they know the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and of the 12 disciples, but they can’t tell you much at all about the gospel, and they have no real love for Jesus… In no way are they seeking to follow Jesus; they are just seeking to live out some religious checklist…

Friends, this is the same mistake the Jews made… Christians aren’t legalists or moralists, nor are we antinomians (anti-law/lawless hedonists); we’re followers of Christ… Because He loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him and give ourselves to following Him… Christianity is not merely about behavior and law, but about communion with the triune God; because we know God in Christ, we live for Him… If you think about Christianity merely as a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” you’re missing the point; Christianity is primarily about what has already been done by Jesus… It’s not DOs and DON’Ts, it’s done; it’s the finished work of Christ… Which is exactly what we see on the cross…

In verses 32 and 33 we read, “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.” Jesus had already cried out, “It is finished!” He had finished His great work upon the cross and He gave up His spirit… No one took His life from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord… So when the soldiers came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead they didn’t break His legs… But to make sure He was dead, in verse 34 we’re told, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

Now, at first glance this seems simple enough, but there’s a lot going on here that John wants us to take notice of. That’s why he says, in the rest of our passage, in verses 35-37, “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. 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.’”

The person John is talking about who bore witness to these things, who’s telling the truth, and who’s giving this true testimony that we may believe, is John Himself… He is the disciple whom Jesus loves that stayed near the cross and witnessed it all… And as he says in John 20:31, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So he’s emphasizing that he’s telling the truth, and the truth that He’s telling us is that Jesus, who is God the Son, took on flesh, and lived the perfect life that we have failed to live, and then died (actually died) the death that we deserve to die for sinning against God… He’s telling us that Jesus didn’t fall asleep, that no one took His place, He wasn’t in a coma, but that He died on the cross in our place… The gospel is fact… It is historical truth… That’s what we’re being told first here… And he’s telling us this truth that we might believe and have life in Christ… And that gets at what else He’s saying here…

Once again John points us to God’s sovereign grace in and through all of these events… None of this is just happenstance, but God’s gracious providence… John points out that these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled… First he points to Exodus 12:46, where God tells Moses and Aaron that the Passover lamb’s bones are not to be broken… This was the lamb that was slain, who’s blood was put on the lintel and the two doorpost to save the Israelites in Egypt, and the lamb that was slain and eaten at each Passover celebration in remembrance of that time… So John is telling us that these two things are linked. Like I quoted earlier from 1 Corinthians 5:7, Christ is our Passover lamb, that has been sacrificed… Like the lamb in the first Passover, Jesus died to save God’s people… In Revelation 5:9 we’re told that Jesus is worthy because, “[He was] slain, and by [His] blood [He] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” He is the perfect Passover Lamb, who’s bones were not broken, but who’s blood was spilt to save us from our sin, reconcile us to God, and give us eternal life… So, in the midst of the Jews worried about celebrating the Passover, John is showing us who the true Passover is: Jesus Himself…

Here also John speaks of another Scripture being fulfilled that says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Here He seems to be referencing a few verses in Zechariah; in 12:10 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 on 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.” And in 13:1 He says, “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.” Throughout Zechariah 12 and 13 God speaks of His Servant that will be pierced for His people, and the Servant is Himself, Yahweh… When He speaks of the one who is pierced, He says they look on me, when they look on him whom they have pierced… It’s Yahweh, the Lord, God almighty who is pierced… And through the piercing of Yahweh Himself comes a flowing fountain of grace… And this is the picture that John is painting for us here as Jesus is not only pierced by nails as He crucified for us, but as He’s also pierced by a spear, and from that wound comes flowing water and blood…

In this passage we see John emphasizing that Jesus is truly man, that He did indeed take on flesh and did indeed die; and likewise here we see John emphasizing that Jesus is truly God—He’s Yahweh in the flesh who was pierced for His people…He is Immanuel, God with us, who died for us… This is what we sang earlier in that hymn that by William Cowper: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains…” In fact there are numerous hymns that associate the piercing of Jesus with cleansing from sin…

In Rock of Ages we sing, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee… Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin a double cure, [to] save from wrath and make me pure…” In other words, the hymn writer understood that the water flowing from Jesus’ side pointed back to the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness that gave water to God’s people… But the water and the blood that flowed from Jesus doesn’t just sustain life, but provides eternal life: it provides justification as well as sanctification; the blood provides atonement, and the water provides purification from sin… And that’s typically how this passage is seen… As we sang earlier from Fanny Crosby, “Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain; free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain…” This is the fountain and the stream that she, and others, were speaking of… So what John is showing here in all of this is that Jesus is the Suffering Servant, who is Yahweh… He’s Yahweh in the flesh who was pierced for His people… He’s the true Passover Lamb, who God provided, who is God Himself, that died for the sins of His people… He’s the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, and He’s the great Messiah and Savior that the whole Bible is about… He’s the One who saves from wrath and makes us pure

That’s actually what we see here in the water and the blood flowing from Jesus’ side… There’s a lot of debate about what’s happening here, because most doctors say that the only way water would have flowed from the wound in Jesus’ side is if the spear went up to where His heart was; but even then His heart would have had to have been severely injured, or even ruptured… Essentially His heart would have had to have been under such tremendous stress—even greater stress than the pain of the scourging and the crucifixion—that His heart ruptured, or was crushed under great intensity, and the blood in His heart and arteries began to separate from the clot and the water like fluid in it, creating a blood looking liquid, as well as a water looking liquid… And so these doctors argue that the pain and the stress of dying, though great, was not enough to break Jesus’ heart in this way… So, is the Bible wrong? No!

There is something that Jesus went through here that is far greater, far more horrific and stressful than the scourging, than crucifixion, than death itself… It’s what led Jesus to sweat drops of blood in the garden earlier as He ask the Father if there was another way to save His people… You see, as awful as the crucifixion is, it is nothing in comparison with the wrath of God… It was God’s wrath that led Jesus to sweat drops of blood… And it was God’s wrath that Jesus had been enduring for the last few hours on the cross. In Mark 15:33-34 we’re told, “when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” And the idea of being forsaken here is not merely that God has left Him, but that the gracious presence of God has been replaced with the righteous wrath of God… For three hours the holy hatred of sin—the righteous wrath and fury of God due His people, due sinners like you and me, is poured out upon Jesus in our place… And Jesus drinks down the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs, until God’s wrath is fully satisfied, and then He cries out, “It is finished!” And He dies… And in the midst of this the Scripture says the earth quaked, and the temple curtain was torn in half… It was as if the earth quaked under the force of the wrath of God… And it was that force that caused Jesus’ heart to rupture, or to essentially be crushed…

It’s clear from the text that the Romans and the Jews did not yet expect Jesus to be dead… Sometimes crucifixions would last for days; yet Jesus dies after just six hours on the cross… And that’s because for three of those hours Jesus suffered the almighty wrath of God… That’s what led to the water and the blood flowing from Jesus’ side… Because Jesus is truly God, and because He is truly man, because He is the infinitely glorious God of the universe in the flesh, He was able to drink down the cup of God’s wrath in the place of His people… Every sin we’ve ever committed is an offense against an infinitely holy God and is thus deserving of infinite wrath… But Jesus is the infinite God of the universe in the flesh; that’s why He could take an infinite punishment upon Himself in just a few hours… And He took that punishment, for you and for me, and for every single sin of every single person who would ever repent and believe… He took the punishment for all of God’s people’s sins: past, present, and future… What would take us an eternity in hell to pay for, He accomplished on the cross in just a few hours… So imagine that; imagine how intense hell must be for one sinner, and now multiply that times every single sinner for whom Christ died, and imagine how intense the suffering must’ve been… Is that not enough stress to rupture a human heart, even the heart of Christ? I think so… And because Jesus’ heart was filled with love for God and His people, that He was willing to have it literally break under the wrath of God…

Jesus’ heart was crushed under the wrath of God so that we would be saved from wrath and made pure… So that we who would repent and believe would be justified and sanctified… The blood flowing from Jesus’ heart was for justification—making us right with God—and the water was for sanctification—giving us the power to fight sin and pursue holiness… The water represents the life giving Spirit that God gives to all of His people… The Holy Spirit who causes us to be born again and takes up residence in our life, leading us and guiding us, and empower us to fight sin… He purifies us, as it were…

This shows us two incredibly important things that I think are often forgotten today… First we see here that we need a righteousness that is not our own… On the cross Jesus took the wrath that we deserve because, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus took our guilt, and the punishment we deserve in our guilt, so that He could give us His righteousness… That’s why it’s so important that He lived the perfect life… He’s perfectly righteous… And when we trust in Him by faith we are clothed in His righteousness… The world tells us that our greatest problems are outside of us—be it our circumstances or other people—and the solution to our problem is inside of us: we just need to muster up the greatness in us to fix our issues… But God’s Word tells us just the opposite… Our greatest problem is our own sinful heart… And the solution is outside of us… The solution is Jesus and His righteousness…

Now secondly, we see here that in and of ourselves we cannot rightly change… In other words, we cannot purify ourselves from sin… Mere behavior modification is not enough… We need the power of the Holy Spirit… We need the power of the gospel… We need the blood and the water… We need Jesus… We need to go back to the gospel again and again, drawing near to the cross, and looking to Christ, and finding our motivation and the very power to fight sin and pursue holiness… We don’t move on from the cross… We don’t move on from the gospel… It is the gospel itself that saves us from sin and frees us from its power…

In the gospel we see that Jesus went through the absolute worst suffering imaginable… He suffered the wrath ofsinful man, being mocked and ridiculed, scourged and crucified, and then He suffered the wrath of Godforsinful man, which is the equivalent of the eternal hell due all of God’s people—the most excruciating agony in existence… He took all of that upon Himself to save us… And that’s what it does; the cross saves us in every sense of the word… It justifies, and it sanctifies; and it leads us to our glorification… The cross represents the absolute worst thing that can happen to us, and in Christ it has already happened… Christ took our sin to the cross… He became sin… He took our names to the cross; we were crucified with Him… Therefore, the cross sets us free… This is why the cross justifies and sanctifies… It saves from wrath and makes us pure, because it is where freedom is found… It’s where our identity is found… It’s where sin and shame go to die, because they were nailed to the cross with Christ… It’s where our old sinful selves go to die, because we were crucified with Christ; and that frees us up… No power of hell, no scheme of man; no guilt in life, no fear of death… This is the power of Christ in me… We were crucified with Him, for He is in us and we’re in Him… This is what was going on at the cross as Jesus suffered God’s wrath for us…

The heart of Christ was crushed under the wrath of God so that our sinful hearts would be crushed, so that our fearful hearts would be crushed, so that out prideful hearts would be crushed, so that our slothful, greedy, selfish hearts would be crushed, so that our hearts of stones would be crushed and replaced by a gospel saturated, blood bought heart of flesh… That’s the reality of the cross… And it’s as we look to the cross, it’s as we look to Jesus that this reality plays out in our lives… Looking to the cross by faith is what leads to our justification; and likewise, it’s when we look to Jesus that our hearts are transformed more and more into His image, as we see Jesus for who He is and what He’s done and is doing… As we see that He is our righteousness… As we see that He is the desire of our hearts… As we see that He is why we exist… This is transformative… The blood justifies, the water sanctifies; there is a mighty, saving, powerful fountain of grace flowing from Calvary, because that’s where the heart of Christ was crushed under the wrath of God to save sinners like you and me… Do you seek salvation? Look to the cross… Do you seek sanctification—are you looking to put your sin to death? Look to the cross… Are you looking for joy? Look to the cross… Look to Jesus and be captivated by Him…

Conclusion

Friends, that’s what we need to see here; we need to see what the Jews missed… We need to see who Jesus is, and be captivated by Him… We need to see Him for who He truly is: He is truly man, and He is truly God… He is the One who has perfectly fulfilled the Law and the Scriptures… He’s the One the whole Bible is about… He’s the true Passover Lamb, the Suffering Servant who was slain and pierced to save His people… He’s the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us… He’s the Son of God who literally had His heart broken by the wrath of God, because His heart was filled with the love of God: love for God and love for you and for me… This is the absolute truth; the gospel is historic fact…

Jesus loves sinners so much that He lived the perfect God-glorifying life that we should be living, and died the wrath absorbing death we deserve to die, and as we’ll see in weeks to come, He rose in victory on the third day: conquering sin, death, and hell, for all who will turn from their sin and truly believe in Him… That’s why John wrote all of this out: again, he said, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So turn to Jesus, believe in Him, and have true everlasting life… See the gospel for what it is, see Jesus for who He is and be captivated; for that will give you life and that will transform your life…