Matthew 27:45-56 April 2009

THE DEATH OF JESUS

Because it was resurrection Sunday last week I took a break from Matthew and looked at the resurrection of Jesus.

Today we return to Matthew and continue looking at the events that surrounded the crucifixion of Jesus.

When Jesus was crucified, God the Father was very much involved in what was happening. In fact 2 Corinthans 5:19 we read that at the cross “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” And so we will look at the activity of God the Father at the cross and the attendance of the followers.

THE ACTIVITY OF THE FATHER v45-53

Extraordinary darkness v45

God’s activity was first of seen in the extraordinary darkness that came upon the land.

One ancient writer said that this was an eclipse of the sun, but this couldn’t have been for two reasons. It took place during a full moon and during the full moon the moon is on the other side of the earth and therefore does come between the earth and the sun. Secondly a solar eclipse does not take 3 hours.

There are actually ancient documents outside of the Bible that speak of this unusual darkness coming upon the land.

Tertullian wrote in the second century to some non-believers reminding them of the unusual darkness occurring at this time which was recorded in their literature.

A 2nd Century writer Greek writer from Caria named Phlegon wrote about the darkness that occurred in the 4th year of the 202nd Olympiad which would have been around 33 A.D.. “There was the greatest eclipse of the sun. It became as night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia and many things were overturned in Nicaea”.

A first century Greek historian named Thallus, who was not a Christian, wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world in 52 A.D., and he actually discusses the sudden darkness that covered the world during the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. He tried to explain it as an eclipse of the sun, even though this would not have been possible because of the time of the month when Jesus was crucified.

It could only have been a supernatural act of God. But what was the significance of the darkness?

It’s quite simple. In the Bible, darkness is associated with God’s judgment, sorrow, misery and mourning. When Job curses the day he was born he says let that day be a day of thick darkness. When Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment upon Israel he speaks about it being a dark of darkness and great distress, when Joel speaks about the coming day of God’s judgment he speaks about the sun being turned to darkness. Amos says the day of God’s judgement upon the earth will be a day of darkness. Zephaniah says the Day of Judgment will be a day of darkness and gloom. And when Jesus spoke about the final place of judgement to which those who reject Him will go he describes it a place of outer darkness.

When darkness came upon the land at the cross, it was a sign that judgement was taking place. But who was being judged? Jesus. He was being judged, condemned and punished for the wrongs we have committed.

Listen to the words of Isaiah 53:4 “It was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.”

At the cross, Jesus became the scapegoat, the whipping boy, the substitute and representative for every one of us. He took the blows, the nails, the cross and the full weight of punishment for our sins and it literally became the darkest day in human history.

Unnatural separation v46

As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He let out a most pitiful cry, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”

This was the first time in Jesus eternal existence that His relationship with His Father was severed. Never, ever before had the Father and Son been separated.

For the first time in His eternal existence Jesus was completely alone. Deserted by His disciples and now abandoned by His Father.

We have no idea what this must have been like for Jesus. His whole existence was inseparably bound to His Father. They were one in every sense of the word – in spirit, in love, purpose, in their very makeup. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father, the Father and I are one, I never act on my own, I only do what the Father wants me to do.” And now the relationship was broken. Why?

On the cross Jesus carried all the wrongs ever committed by mankind. All the evil, horrible, selfish, proud things you and I have ever done, said or thought were poured out upon Jesus at the cross. He literally became saturated with our sin. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “he became sin”. And in Habakkuk 1:13 we read that “Gods eyes are too morally pure to look upon sin.”

And when God the Father saw His own son drenched with our sin He could not look upon Him, He had to withdraw – the relationship was broken.

At the cross we tend to dwell on the suffering Jesus went through and don’t realise that God the Father suffered too.

In fact I think God the Father suffered just as much.

Those of you who are parents know something of the agony and heart wrenching pain when you see your children suffer.

Ill. This story was in the Good Friday reading in Word for the Today. Tim Miller writes: “My nine-year-old daughter Jennifer was looking forward to our family holiday. But she became ill, and a long anticipated day at Sea World was replaced by an all-night series of CT scans, X-rays and blood tests at the hospital. As morning approached the doctor told my exhausted little girl that she would need to have one more test, a spinal tap. The procedure would be painful, they said. The doctor then asked me if I planned to stay in the room. I nodded, knowing I couldn’t leave Jennifer alone during the ordeal. The doctor gently asked Jennifer to remove all her clothing. She looked at me with child-like modesty as if to ask if that were alright. They had her curl up into a tiny ball. I buried my face in hers and hugged her. When the needle went into her spine, Jennifer cried. As the searing pain increased, she sobbed repeatedly, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,’ her voice becoming more earnest with each word. It was as if she were saying ‘Oh Daddy, please, can’t you do something?’ My tears mingled with hers. My heart was broken, I felt nauseated. Because I loved her, I was allowing her to go through the most agonising experience of her life. In the middle of that spinal tap my thoughts went to the Cross. What unspeakable pain both the Son and the Father went through – for our sake.”

Untimely death v50

Jesus was crucified at 9 am in the morning and just after 3 o’clock in the afternoon He died. This was unusual because most people who were crucified lasted a lot longer on the cross than Jesus did.

The key is found in the words, “He gave up his spirit.” It means Jesus voluntarily handed over His spirit to God. Jesus chose the very moment He would die. Even on the cross Jesus was in control of the situation. No one can simply decide at any given moment that they will die unless they physically commit suicide. It wasn’t the Romans or the Jews who took His life, He chose to give it.

John 10:17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

There are two reasons Jesus chose that moment to die.

Right at that time in Jerusalem the Jews were sacrificing the lambs for the Passover meal and Jesus was the Lamb of God who was being sacrificed for our sins.

John 20:30 tells us that at this point Jesus cried out, “It is finished, it is complete.” The full punishment for our sin had been taken, the sentence had been served, the penalty paid. There was nothing more to be done.

Ill. When Martin Luther was a Catholic Monk he was taught that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, but that His death was not enough to atone for all our sins and make us acceptable to God. Martin was taught that we still had to do certain things to get rid of our sins and make ourselves good enough for God. And Martin worked very hard to do this – He literally whipped himself, slept on a cold hard bed, went without food and clothing, recited prayers for hours and hours on end, crawled around on his hands and knees, but he never knew when he had done enough to get to heaven until one day he read his Bible and discovered that Jesus had carried all our sins at the cross and done everything that was necessary to cleanse us from all that is wrong and make us right with God. And when Jesus had done this He cried out, “It is finished, it is complete – there is nothing more to be done.” Its all been done by Jesus for you and me – all we are called to do is accept what He did for us, put our faith and trust in Him and follow Him.

Ill. My sins, O the bliss of this glorious thought.

Unexplainable desecration v51

Right in the very heart of the temple was a room called the Holy of Holies. It was the place where God chose to live among His people. The room was sealed off from the public by a huge embroidered curtain and the only person permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was the High Priest and that was once a year. The curtain was a reminder to the people that they were separated from God because of their sin.

It is very interesting that nearly every primitive religion teaches that somewhere in the past human beings became separated from God. Most of them teach that they can communicate with lesser gods, demons and spirits.

Even the early Maoris believed that the Creator, supreme God was Io who lived in the highest heaven but they had lost communication with Him and so could only relate to the lesser gods and spirits such as Tane Mahuta – forest, Tangaroa – Seas and rivers etc. This belief is so common among tribal people throughout the world.

Ill. In 1961 Bruce Olson went to live with the Motilone tribe in South America. A tribe that had never had contact with Europeans. When Bruce had learned their language he discovered that they believed that human beings once had contact with the One true God, but a deceiver had tricked them into offending God and now they could only communicate with spirits. The same story is found among the Karen tribe in Burma and many others have similar stories.

Right in front of the Curtain was an altar on which animals were continually sacrificed to try and atone for people’s sin. But this was only a temporary measure because an animal can never truly represent a human being.

Jesus became a human being in order to perfectly represent us human beings and when He was sacrificed in our place for the wrongs we have done, that sacrifice dealt with sins far more completely than any animal sacrifice ever could.

In fact Hebrews 10:11-18 we read, “Under the old covenant, the priest stood and ministered before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But Jesus, our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, once and for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one sacrifice he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he says, “I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds.” And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

So what was the significance of the curtain that separated people from God being torn from top to bottom?

When that curtain was ripped apart, God was saying 2 things:

1. Through Jesus death, access to God was now open to everyone. Our sins have been completely and perfectly atoned for and there is nothing stopping us from coming to God.

Hebrews 10:19 “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

2. The temple with its sacrificial and ceremonial rules and regulations was no longer needed. God was no longer confined to a sealed off room in a building made by men. His presence was available to everyone who accepts what Jesus did at the cross and puts their faith and trust in Him.

Unexpected earthquake v51

Once again this was a sign that God was involved in what was happening. When God came to Mt Sinai in the days of Moses, His presence was announced by an earthquake. In fact the whole mountain shook and the people were terrified. When the prophets spoke of the day of Judgement they said it will be a day marked by earthquakes and this is also confirmed in the book of Revelation.

Unprecedented resurrections v52

Now here we have something very strange that happened when Jesus died. The earthquake broke the tombs of some of the believers who had died before Jesus and after Jesus had risen from the dead they also rose from their tombs. In the Greek it reads that they did not rise until after Jesus resurrection.

So who were these holy people? They were people who believed in Jesus before the cross. Just as we look back to the cross and believe that Jesus died for us, there were many people who looked forward to the cross and believed in the One who would come and set them free from sin.

In fact one of them was Abraham. Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”

From what we read here there are already believers who have experienced their physical resurrection from the dead and it might interest you to know that when Jesus returns they will accompany Him. 1 Thessalonians 3:13

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

THE ATTENDANCE OF THE FOLLOWERS v54-56

The soldiers who followed out of duty

These men had been with Jesus from the time of his arrest, during the trial, the flogging, the mockery to the crucifixion. They had seen and heard everything, they knew it was all rigged and they knew Jesus was innocent, but they were under orders and were simply doing their job.

But they also saw how Jesus responded to his vicious, ruthless, accusers. They saw how He responded to the physical torture – there was no resentment, no protesting, no cries for revenge. He showed respect, compassion, love and forgiveness towards them all.

They would never have witnessed anything like this before. Jesus behaviour was so untypical of someone who was being unjustly tried, condemned and executed. And then when they witnessed God’s activity at the cross they knew this man was more than a mere human being and they were terrified and cried out, “Truly, [we are absolutely positively convinced] He was the Son of God.”

The women who followed out of devotion

When the cowardly disciples had deserted Jesus these women continued to follow Him. Unlike the men these women weren’t afraid of the Jewish leaders or the Romans. Their love, devotion and commitment to Jesus was stronger than any fear of persecution.

I don’t know why they call women the weaker sex. They may be physically weaker but in the areas of love, loyalty, courage and spirituality they often outshine the men.

Ill. During the Boxer rebellion in China 1900. The rebels captured a Christian mission school and sealed off every exit except the main gate. They lay a cross on the ground in the gateway and said to the missionaries and students, “If you walk through the gate and trample the cross under your feet we will let you go.”

The first 7 students walked over the top of the cross to freedom. The 8th student, a young girl came up to the cross and knelt before it, praying for strength. She then rose and walked round the cross to face her death at the hands of the rebels. This act of bravery so inspired the other 92 students that they followed her example and walked to their death rather than deny Jesus and trample on the cross.

One other thing about these women. They followed Jesus around for one reason – to serve Him. They weren’t just following Him for what they could get out of Him. All they wanted to do was minister to His needs. So often, it’s the other way round – we see Jesus as someone who exists to meet our needs, fulfil our desires and serve us. If that is the case we’ve got it wrong. When you think of what He has done for us and will continue to do for us – serving Him is no sacrifice, it is our highest privilege.

Ill. Not so long ago in a church a man in his 70’s was speaking to a group of young people and he told them this story. A man took his son and a friend sailing one day. They got caught in a terrible storm and the boast capsized. The father who was a strong swimmer managed to grab hold of a life jacket but he saw that both the boys were struggling to stay afloat. He own son was a committed Christian but the friend was not. The father knew that if his son drowned he would go to be with the Lord, but if his friend drowned he would face eternal separation from God and so he threw the life jacket to the friend. His son drowned and the friend survived. Some of those listening to him could not believe that a father would allow his own son to drown and save a boy in the hope that he would become a Christian. The man said, “It is true because I am the father and your pastor was my son’s friend.”

And then he said to them, “And in the same way God the father sacrificed his son so that you could be rescued from the power and consequences of your sin.”