Not a Single Bone Shall Be Broken

Today is Good Friday on the Christian calendar. I would like to share a Good Friday reflection with you. Thank you for reading…

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When I speak at children’s events, I tell the story of Jesus and his ministry on earth. I point out that Jesus was the only human in history who lived a perfect life – because he was both God and human at the same time. I then explain to them the story of how Jesus was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, and subsequently put on a cross. I tell them that the cross was a terrible way to die – it was the punishment back then that was reserved for the really bad guys. Then I ask them, “but was Jesus a bad guy?” They say, “No.”

That’s when I say, “So, Jesus did not die on the cross because he deserved to. He died on the cross because he loves you.” That’s 1 John 4:10: God’s love is that he “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” What is propitiation? Some versions use the terms “atonement” or “sacrifice.” Propitiation is the act of satisfying the wrath of God, in this context, against the sin of the world. We also know that Jesus accepted this call, albeit with reluctance in his humanity. He told his father in prayer, “If you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42a).

But we know Jesus did not maintain this reluctance. For the very next thing he said was, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). We further know that Jesus died out of enduring and hesed (covenant love) love for us because of a small detail John leaves us in the crucifixion account.

You see, shortly after Jesus and the two criminals beside him were placed on the crosses, the Jews petitioned Pilate to speed up the process so that no bodies would be left on a cross during the Sabbath, which was fast approaching. Pilate sent guards to do just that. What did they do to speed up the process? Break the legs of the crucified. That would accelerate the death of the punished because as long as their legs worked, they could still push themselves up a little to gasp for every last breath of air in an effort to stay alive. John says,

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 (John 19:32-33).

John himself interprets this as a fulfillment of Scripture, from which the Israelites were given instructions not to break the bones of their passover lambs (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; see John 19:36). I also see something very telling in this physical detail. And I could be wrong about this, but I have a guess based on the evidence we do have in Scripture. My guess is that Jesus physically accepted the consequences of the cross without trying to fight back against it.

Here’s what I mean: The two criminals were still alive when the guards approached them to break their legs. Jesus was not. What is the difference between the criminals and Jesus? The criminals were probably trying to extend their life and breath as long as humanly possible, as if to try to reverse their punishments if even for a few more moments. You see, once a crucified person’s legs are broken, their body weight shifts from being held by the legs to being held by the “shoulders and chest, and the prisoner would suffocate in a few minutes” (Michael Card, The Parable of Joy [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995], p. 228). Jesus, on the other hand, gave himself up for us before the guards even got to him for this final blow. He did not fight against his Father’s calling. He lovingly poured out his hesed for us on that cross. Paul testifies to this in his poem about Christ in Philippians 2:

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

John also recounts the time when Jesus spoke about this obedience to death – even saying that he has authority to lay down his own life:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18a).

In summary of this point, the reason I believe the soldiers did not have to break the legs of Jesus is because he laid down his life of his own accord. Again, not because of anything he did, but rather because his love for us is that great. He also knew, even on the cross, that the hope of Resurrection was right around the corner.

*This reflection is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at Eternity Church in Richmond, VA on March 27, 2022.

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Dr. Jesse Joyner travels nationwide as a speaker and entertainer. His primary role is that of a performing juggler spreading joy and the love of learning to family and kids events. H earned his PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). He enjoys playing the piano, bird watching, and old houses. He lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Sarah, and their three kids - the perfect number for juggling children.