Our Passover Lamb Is God Crucified
Passage: John 19:31–36, Exodus 12:46, Zechariah 12:10
Sermon from John 19:31-36; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on April 19, 2015
Setting John's Gospel within Scripture's Storyline
Before reading, I’d like to begin by reminding you that John’s Gospel falls within a much larger story being told. The Bible as a whole tells the story of God rescuing humanity for the praise and glory of his grace (cf. Eph 1:3-14). And part of that story is what God reveals about the desperate condition out of which we need to be rescued (Gen 3). According to the Bible, God created us to bring him glory, to enjoy him with gratitude and worship in all we do (1 Cor 11:7; Rev 4:11). But since our first parents fell into sin, our problem is that we don’t serve God in the way he created us to serve him. We do our own thing instead (Gen 3:1-7; Rom 1:18-3:19).
And it’s not just that we don’t serve God in the ways he has commanded, we lack the ability to do so. Apart from divine grace, we have a mind set on the flesh. It’s hostile to God; it’s bent in on itself and doesn’t submit to God’s law. Indeed, Paul tells us, it cannot submit to God’s law. And therefore, we cannot please God (Rom 8:7-8). In other words, we are born into this world enslaved to sin. Sin reigns in our mortal bodies; sin makes us obey its passions (Rom 6:12).
And, therefore, the Bible also says we are subject to death. In response to our sin, God cursed humanity with death. He cursed humanity with physical death. From the moment we are born, death is in our bones. The Bible tells us that “sin [entered] the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). We are all decaying people, because of sin—it’s why we map out our days and invest in life insurance and put on makeup and go to the doctor for treatment. We are riddled with physical death.
We are also subject to spiritual death, because of sin. Death is more than something we meet at the end of life; death is separation from the life that is found in God. This is why the Bible can characterize all humanity in Adam as basically walking dead people. Ephesians says we were dead in trespasses and sins. Even though we were physically alive, our condition was still death (Eph 2:1).
And finally, because of our slavery to sin, we are also subject to eternal death. The apostle John portrays death as coming into judgment under God’s wrath without escape forever (John 3:36; 5:24). Revelation 21:8 then tells us that this eternal judgment under God’s wrath is called the second death.
And so this is a glance at our desperate condition out of which we need to be rescued. By nature, we do not serve God. And we do not serve God, because we lack the ability to do so. And we lack the ability to do so, because we are enslaved to sin. And because we are enslaved to sin, we get death, death, death. That’s part of the bigger story.
But I’m not here merely to highlight what the Bible exposes about our desperate condition. I’m here to declare what the Bible reveals about God’s rescue in the cross of Jesus Christ. I’m here to leave you with the hope of the grace of God working on your behalf in Jesus’ death, because the way John continues the story in these next seven verses is outstanding. It shows us that in the death of Jesus, God solves every problem I just mentioned for those who believe. We will see this in the way John once again interprets the death of Jesus in light of Scripture. We will see that God offers up his divine Son as our Passover sacrifice, to free us from sin, to deliver us from death, and to sanctify us for his service. Verse 31…
31Since 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. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
The Events: Jesus’ Legs Not Broken & Pierced
Our passage unfolds in three parts: we get the events, the witness, and the interpretation. First we see the events. John tells us just how it all went down. The Jews don’t want the bodies to remain on the cross (cf. Deut 21:22-23). So they ask Pilate to break their legs, so that they might be taken away.
In a Roman crucifixion, this is how you’d speed up the death of those crucified. Breaking their legs meant they could no longer hold themselves up at all. And once the arms gave way, the person couldn’t keep his chest cavity open enough for air. And they’d soon die from asphyxia, a lack of oxygen to the body.
So the soldiers come and brake the legs of the first criminal; and then they do the same thing to the other criminal crucified with Jesus. But, verse 33 says, when they come to Jesus, they see that he is already dead, and so they don’t break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierces his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. Those are the events, the bare facts about what happened.
The Witness: The Truth of the Event & Its Meaning
Next, in verse 35, we get the witness. And this is likely the apostle John. John regularly speaks of himself in the third person in his Gospel (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).* But notice what he says, “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."
Now, at first glance, it seems that all John is saying is that he’s an eyewitness. He saw firsthand what happened to Jesus. And so he knows he’s telling the truth, no more than anyone of us testifying to what we see.
But on closer look, John is really saying more than that. It’s true that John is saying he’s an eyewitness to the events surrounding Jesus’ death. But he’s also saying he’s a witness to what those events mean. He doesn’t just see the perceptible facts surrounding Jesus’ death; he also sees the invisible meaning of these facts. Whenever we find this combination of seeing and bearing witness in John’s Gospel, it’s tied to seeing heavenly realities, something that God himself reveals. We get it with John the Baptist and with Jesus and now with John (cf. 1:34; 3:11, 32-33). And that’s why he connects his witness to the purpose of belief/faith and the fulfillment of Scripture.
He connects it to the purpose of belief/faith at the end of verse 35—“that you also may believe.” And he doesn’t mean that he merely wants you to believe the facts of Jesus’ death. Witnessing mere facts saves nobody! Hundreds of people witnessed Jesus teaching and performing miracles and even dying. But that doesn’t mean they were saved. You also had to believe in what Jesus’ death meant for you. You have to receive his death for what God says it really is and means for you.
And so notice also the little word “for” at the beginning of verse 36 linking his witness-for-faith with the Scriptures. He builds his witness to the cross on what the cross means for us according to Scripture. He sounds just like Paul: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). It’s not enough to state the facts—Christ died—lots of people believe that. Lots of non-Christian historians are willing to grant that Jesus was crucified, but that doesn’t make them saved. The apostles preach that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and we must believe that.
It’s not enough to win apologetic arguments over the facts—even though the facts are absolutely crucial to the gospel. People must also believe what God says those facts mean in the Bible. John is doing the same with his preaching.
Part of his witness is to say, these things really happened. And part of his witness is to explain why these things happened the way they did. I mean think about it. Jesus was hung up at the same time these other men were. Why’s he already dead? Even more Jesus is the one who possesses life and gives life—like to Lazarus. He could’ve outlived all of them if he wanted. The point, though, is that he chose to die before the soldiers started breaking legs.
And why? John explains from the Scriptures—Scriptures the Holy Spirit himself told John to apply to Jesus. Remember that John is writing these things after Jesus was raised from the dead and after Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him. And several places in John’s Gospel tell us that once the disciples receive the Spirit, they remember that the Scriptures said these things about Jesus (2:22; 12:16; cf. 7:37-39; 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). And so, here, the Holy Spirit through the pen of John bears witness, not just to the facts of Jesus’ death but to their meaning as well (cf. 1 Cor 15:3).
The Interpretation: Passover Lamb & Piercing One
So, third, John gives us the interpretation of the events with the Scriptures; and here’s where we see our great rescue clarified. Verse 36, “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled;” and then we get two quotations from the Old Testament. And I want us to take them one at a time.
1. Jesus, Our Passover Lamb
First Scripture: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Two places where this occurs in the Old Testament, and both of them refer to the lamb that was to be eaten during the Passover—one is Exodus 12:46 and the other is Numbers 9:12. In both places, God is instructing his people on how to celebrate the Passover; and when it comes to the lamb, God says, “It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones” (Exod 12:46).
The correlation John is making is that Jesus is fulfilling this Scripture about the Passover lamb. And some of you may be scratching your heads, going, “How so? In what sense is Jesus fulfilling a Scripture about an animal, and why’s it such a big deal?” Well let’s step back for a minute and look at the bigger picture.
Typological Connections in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, God often reveals himself and reveals how he deals with humanity through specific events, persons, and institutions. So there are events like creation and the flood and the exodus. There are persons such as Adam and Melchizedek and prophets and priests and King David himself—we’ve been on David the last two weeks from Psalms 22 and 69. And then there are also institutions like the Passover.
All these events, persons, and institutions—in their own unique ways—reveal patterns that point to the way God plans to work in the future through Christ. So an event like creation looks forward to the new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). The flood looks forward to the waters of God’s wrath sweeping over Jesus and Christian baptism (1 Pet 3:20-22). And then all the persons look forward to a new Adam (Rom 5), a superior prophet, a better priest, a greater King David (Rom 5; Heb 7:1-28; John 2:17). And the the same with an institution like Passover; it looks forward to the greater Passover sacrifice that God would provide in Christ (1 Cor 5:7).
And so goes the patterns. The patterns anticipate the day God brings them to their intended goal or fulfillment in Christ. But keep this in mind, the New Testament fulfillment always surpasses the Old Testament shadows. We end up finding the same thing when we look at Jesus fulfilling the Passover lamb. Think with me for a minute as we consider the role of Passover in God’s great exodus deliverance.
The Passover in the Exodus Deliverance
There’s a problem, if you recall the story. God’s people are in slavery to the Egyptians. They’re slaves to Pharaoh’s tyranny. They’re in great bondage, and they cannot escape. And so God decides to rescue them. He even makes himself a Father to Israel, and as a good Father, he comes to rescue his son. And so, God sends nine plagues of judgment, but it’s not till the tenth plague of judgment that Israel will experience freedom. Get this: that tenth plague of judgment is the death of all the firstborn.
So, as part of freeing his people in relation to this final plague of death, God institutes the Passover. He didn’t institute anything with the other plagues. Why institute something with this plague of death that would also serve as the decisive judgment whereby he rescues his people from slavery? Why? He’s teaching them something.
Exodus 12 and 13 then go on to tell us about the Passover. Each household was to take an unblemished lamb and sacrifice that lamb, being sure not to break any of its bones (Exod 12:46). And they were to take the lamb’s blood and paint it on the doorposts of their homes (Exod 12:7). And what this guaranteed was that when God passed through the land of Egypt with the plague of death, to kill the firstborn—if he saw the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, he would pass over your household (Exod 12:23).
Everyone under the protection of the lamb’s blood would not suffer God’s judgment in death. And the reason the folks under the lamb’s blood wouldn’t suffer God’s judgment in death was that the Passover lamb made atonement for the people inside. In fact, that’s clearly implies by Numbers 9:13. Numbers 9:13 tells us that no participation in the Passover lamb meant that you’d remain in your sins—namely, the sin that leads to death (cf. John 8:24).
That’s our problem, too, isn’t it? We have sin that leads to God’s judgment in death, death, death. But when you hid yourself beneath the blood, there was atonement and therefore escape from God’s judgment in death. And if you escaped death that night, guess what also happened? You were liberated from slavery. So, if you were connected to the Passover lamb you got deliverance from death and freedom from slavery.
But one more thing the Passover did—it set Israel apart for God’s service in the wilderness (Exod 11:7; 12:31). The whole point of the Lord breaking the yoke of slavery was so that Israel could be freed to serve him and worship him and enjoy a covenant relationship with him (Exod 5:3; 6:7-8; 7:16). That was the primary goal from the get go (Exod 4:22-23). It’s also why he consecrates the firstborn to himself through the Passover. The firstborn represented the type of people Israel as a whole was meant to be, a people set apart for God’s service (Exod 13:2, 11-16; 19:16; Num 3:13), no longer enslaved to other masters.
So, what’s the sacrifice of the Passover lamb about in God’s great exodus deliverance? Deliverance from God’s judgment in death, freedom from slavery, and sanctification for God’s service. And then we come to the death of Jesus; and John is telling us that Jesus brings the patterns set in place by the Passover lamb to their intended goal, to their fulfillment—which, remember, always surpass the Old Testament shadow.
Jesus Fulfills the Passover Lamb
Here’s what John is getting at. God’s people needed a lamb that would not just deliver from the temporary plague of death; they needed a lamb that would deliver from the eternal plague of death. They needed a lamb that would undo death, death, death altogether. If any lamb was to deliver from eternal death, it would have to be a lamb that actually took away sins, and did so forever. God’s people also needed a lamb that would rescue them, not just from bondage to oppressive human rulers; they needed a lamb that would deliver them from the tyranny of sin itself. And in terms of sanctification, God’s people needed a lamb that wouldn’t just externally mark them off as a distinct nation for God’s service; they needed a lamb that would actually, from-the-inside-out, transform them into God’s very children.
That lamb is Jesus Christ. He died before the soldiers could break his legs to show that he is that Lamb. Instead of deliverance from temporary death, those covered by the blood of Jesus are delivered from eternal death, because found in his blood is the forgiveness of sins which leads to eternal life. John the Baptist was right in what he saw, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; cf. 3:16, 36).
Instead of a deliverance from mere slavery in Egypt, those covered by the blood of Jesus find themselves freed from the tyranny of sin’s power forever. How does Jesus put it in chapter 8:34-36? “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Instead of a sanctification that marks off a people externally, the blood of Jesus so sanctifies people for God’s service that he delights in calling all of them his children (John 1:13; 11:52; 17:19; 20:22).
And instead of providing lambs that stay dead every year, God provided the Lamb who would undo death, death, death altogether for his people. Jesus rose from the dead never to die again such that even now all heaven sings to the Lamb, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12). So, there’s no need for another Passover lamb to be sacrificed. Jesus’ death fulfilled what every Passover lamb before him pointed to—namely, our deliverance from God’s judgment in death, our freedom from slavery to sin, and our sanctification for God’s service.
2. Jesus, the Pierced One
And the reason he can do all this, when no other lamb before him could do all this—the reason he can do all this is that he is God who took on flesh. And that leads us to the second Scripture John quotes, Zechariah 12:10. A couple of things are going on with John’s use of Zechariah 12:10, but the main thing is what Zechariah 12:10 says about Jesus’ identity.
Yahweh as the Pierced One
Zechariah 12:10 is a very unique passage in the Old Testament, because it is the only place in the Old Testament where God explicitly suffers piercing at the hands of mere mortals. That doesn’t come out as clearly in the ESV translation, which we normally use here. The ESV reads, “And 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.”
But listen now to the way the NASB translates it, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him.” That’s a really good translation, because it brings out the uniqueness and radical offense in Zechariah’s prophecy: how could one dare say that the immortal God be pierced? And that’s exactly how it landed on early Jewish interpreters, who end up going all over the map to try to alleviate God from suffering this way. They do not have a theological category for God saying that he’s going to be pierced. It’s a mystery.
Unless, God becomes a man. And that’s what we get in the person of Jesus. He is the divine Son of God incarnate. He forever existed with God and was God, and then he took to himself a human nature. That’s what Christians mean when they say, “incarnation.” God himself took on flesh in the person of Jesus. And when John sees this, he’s able to connect the dots. Zechariah’s pierced one is God; Jesus is God; and therefore, Jesus is the pierced one.
The Passover Lamb is God crucified in the place of us who deserve death. Only God could atone for sins; only God could undo his own judgment in death; only God could absorb his own wrath; only God could actually free us from sin; only God could sanctify us so fully as to become his own children; and God does this all through his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul even calls the blood Jesus spills, “God’s blood” in Acts 20:28. Jesus is God pierced.
Fountain of Cleansing Opened
And what happens in the day when God is pierced, according to Zechariah 13:1—a promise that comes right after Zechariah 12:10? Listen to it, Zechariah 13:1, “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.” When God rescues his people, he’s not merely interested in rescuing them from external problems; he’s interested in rescuing them from their internal, moral problem called sin.
“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;” and I think that fountain is being portrayed in the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side. In other words, the flow of blood and water isn’t mentioned merely to say that Jesus was really, really, dead. John mentions it so that we interpret those events in light of the Scriptures.
The blood and water signify that God opened that fountain of cleansing from sin and uncleanness. And that cleansing happens when Jesus’ blood is applied to you by the Holy Spirit. Water throughout John’s Gospel is always associated with the Spirit (1:33-34; 3:5-6; 4:14; 7:37-39). And it is the Spirit who comes and gives eternal life by applying the benefits of Jesus’ death to us (cf. 6:63). That’s the fountain that Jesus opened. It’s a fountain that, when you drink from it by faith, the Spirit applies the blood and you are cleansed.
And he opened that fountain for everybody who would believe. If you believe that Jesus’ death is the only way you can be delivered from death, that his death is the only way you can be rescued from the power of sin, that his death is the only way you can truly be sanctified from the inside-out, then God will send his Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ blood to you, and it’s in that application that you will also be cleansed. Even more, you will be freed from the tyranny of idolatry and filled with the Spirit to serve the living and true God. Zechariah 13:2 says that God will cut off the names of your idols, so that they will be remembered no more.
Summary & Application
And on that last note, we see that God rescues us from our desperate condition in the death of Jesus. We did not serve God; we lacked the ability to serve God; we were enslaved to sin; and we deserved death. But God offered up his divine Son—Zechariah 12:10—as our Passover sacrifice—Exodus 12:46—to free us from sin, to deliver us from death, and to sanctify us for his service, which includes the work of the Spirit. So let’s now think through a couple of implications together. If this is truly what Jesus’ death means, then how should we live?
Live in thanksgiving for your rescue
Well, first off, how could we not live a life of thanksgiving and celebration? I don’t know exactly what big thing you’re struggling with today, but does it get any better than deliverance from death and freedom from sin and the gift of the Spirit to serve God as we were created to serve him? No, it doesn’t. We should live in thanksgiving to God for his great rescue. We should bask in celebration. I mean God even put a Festival on the other side of Passover—the feast of unleavened bread. God is for celebration.
And if you think about it, through the death of Jesus we’ve been welcomed into a festival that never ends, because Jesus’ decisive victory over our sin never ends. We ought to be the happiest people on earth, because our party never has an ending; it only gets ramped up when God raises us from the dead and brings us to the marriage Supper of the Lamb. So walk in thanksgiving and celebration; and if you struggle to feel those things, consider again your desperate condition and God’s great rescue in Christ.
Purify yourself from sin because you can
Also, we’ve been rescued from the power of sin, then we should be making efforts to purify ourselves from sin and any form of ungodliness. Sin can no longer tell you what to do, if you belong to Jesus. Jesus rescued you to belong to God. He is your only master. You’ve been set apart for him and his kingdom. You see, the world around us thinks that it’s Christians who live in bondage. The world thinks it’s free because they can do whatever they want. But from the Bible’s perspective, doing whatever you want isn’t freedom at all. It’s bondage to sin. Freedom in Scripture isn’t freedom to do whatever you want, but freedom to do what God wants, freedom to live as we were created to live. So while the world drives itself ever deeper into slavery by doing whatever it wants, Christians are the ones truly free. In Christ, they actually possess the freedom to walk in righteousness instead of sin. True freedom is the ability to do what we ought before God.
This is the way Paul applies Jesus as our Passover sacrifice. Listen to it from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. He’s addressing immorality in the church in particular, and he says this: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We can purify ourselves from sin, because sin is no longer our master; Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. And that was God’s decisive act to rescue you from slavery to sin.
We can no longer walk around saying apathetic things like, “Well, I guess it’s just who I am, I tend to be angry;” “I guess I’ll always fear what others think of me;” “I guess I just can’t beat this lust and porn problem;” “I guess this same-sex attraction will always define me.” You name where you’re prone to live in sin, just accepting it.
God’s word won’t let us live there. You now have the ability to say No to sin. The death of Jesus is where God broke that yoke of slavery to sin and brought you to himself. Romans 6:14 says, “Sin will have no dominion over you,” because of Jesus. We are free brothers and sisters—free to walk away from our sins and live for God. Sin doesn’t define you—and don’t let the devil tell you it does. Christ defines you; rescue defines you; forgiveness is your banner; a new Master cares for you.
Hold out hope for one another
And that also gives us great hope as a church, does it not? Let’s not pretend, we see each other’s sins. We see each other’s weaknesses. We witness them as we interact with each other. We witness them when we don’t care to interact with each other. We know each other’s sins, because a number of us confess them to one another and ask for prayer, just as James 5 says. But praise God that that sin, those weaknesses, do not ultimately define who we are. Regardless of the sin we see in each other, we can always hold out hope for one another. You know why? Because we’ve been rescued from slavery to sin. Sin doesn’t rule any of us who know Jesus Christ.
And so there’s never a point where we can say of one another, “Ah, that’s just the way he is;” “Ah, she’s always doing this…if she would just…” Because of the death of Jesus, we can’t say that. That’s to live as if the death of Jesus wasn’t enough to rescue us from slavery. That’s to say that sin is more powerful than grace.
Rather, because of Jesus’ death, we can hold out so much hope for each other. We can pray and take confidence that God remove sin’s remains in us, because he already broke sin’s reign over us. We can walk with a brother or sister with patience for a long time, knowing that God atones for the sins of everybody standing under the blood.
And even more, we can encourage each other with that coming day of glory. Because if God gave his Son as the Passover lamb to deliver us from eternal death, that means that we never have to fear physical death even when it will come to us. Revelation 7 even gives us a picture that whenever physical death takes us out of the world, those hiding in the blood of the Lamb will find immediate shelter in God’s presence. It says these saints “shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat…For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.”
We can hold out this hope for one another. Christ, our Passover Lamb, ensures that our tribulation can only end with glory for those protected by the Lamb’s blood.
Proclaim God's rescue in Jesus’ death to others
And one more thing: what great news we can proclaim to others in Jesus’ death. John wrote these words, so that people would believe them. But they can’t believe them unless they hear them. I will say that there have been times when people are so caught up in their sins, that I’ve actually found myself saying, “How could they ever be set free from them? What do I have to give them?” And the Lord has been quick to rebuke me: how did he free me from my sins? The gospel. What do I have to give them? The gospel. Nobody is too bound in sin for the blood of Jesus to rescue.
In the same way God broke your yoke of slavery, he can break the yoke of slavery for others. And that should give us great confidence to preach this message to others. God offered up his divine Son as our Passover sacrifice to free us from sin, to deliver us from death, and to sanctify and fill us for his service.
More in The Gospel According to John
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May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus