Even though Jesus never incriminates himself quite as easily as Pilate and Israel’s priests would like him to, they decide to crucify him anyway. So in John 19, Jesus is beaten, given his crown of thorns, mockingly named “King of the Jews,” and nailed to the cross along with two other criminals. In his finals moments, he says, “I am thirsty.” A sponge is filled with wine, put on a branch (from a hyssop bush) and extended up to Jesus. He drinks, says, “It is finished,” bows his head and dies.
The following day would be both Passover and a sabbath. The two don’t always overlap, so with the day feeling extra special, the priests request that the Romans take down the crucified bodies (why should such a special day be tarnished by the visible body of someone they were so eager to eliminate and pretend never existed?). Now, the two men being crucified alongside Jesus are not quite dead yet. Crucifixion is death by suffocation. The one on the cross would struggle to breath from slouching, would push himself up to take a breath, and repeat until he no longer has the strength and suffocate once for all. So to speed this process along, soldiers come to break the legs of those dying. But Jesus is already dead. Instead of breaking his legs, they pierce his side with a spear.
Throughout the whole trial and death of Jesus, the narrator has been jumping in to tell us that the story is unfolding in particular ways to “fulfill” something spoken before, either by Jesus or from Israel’s scriptures. “These things occurred,” John interjects, “so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.'” (John 19:36) With this John is drawing us from the current Passover all the way to the very first Passover shortly before the Israelites left Egypt for good. The tenth, final, and most devastating plague is about to be unleashed on the Egyptians – the death of every household’s firstborn. Israel is not automatically immune here. In order for the plague to “pass over” Israelite homes, they are to sacrifice a lamb without blemish or broken bones and spread its blood on the house’s doorpost (Exodus 12:5, 7, 46). And by the sacrifice of the perfect lamb, the enslaving evil is dealt with and God’s people will walk free out of Egypt. As another nod to the first Passover, John tells us that it is a hyssop branch used to give Jesus the sponge of wine, the same hyssop used to spread the blood of the lamb on the Israelites’ doorposts (Exodus 12:22).
This is all a bit subtle on John’s part. However, it’s loud as can be back in John’s first chapter. The first time we see Jesus and John the Baptist on the page together, the Baptist cries out, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) So as Jesus dies with no broken bones, the gospel is being proclaimed to us and couldn’t be any clearer: Jesus is the lamb, the perfect sacrificial lamb by which a new Exodus is taking place. That which enslaves humans has been judged and overthrown. Sin and death, along with every burden they create (sickness, resentment, fear, crushing grief, loneliness, addiction, division, violence) have been disarmed and God’s people are walking free.
Are we able to hear the good news that our burdens have no real power over us, that we in fact are free to live in uninterrupted communion with God and one another? It’s good news that we’ll never stop needing to hear. The perfect lamb has laid down its life, and the sin of the world has been taken away!