God the Father Interprets the Cross (Matthew Sermon 147 of 151)
September 08, 2013 | Andrew Davis
Wrath of God, New Covenant, Incarnation, The Doctrine of the Trinity, Atonement
For those of you who don't know me, so my name is Andy Davis, I'm senior pastor of this church. At least I used to be, I haven't heard anything otherwise. I was gone all summer on sabbatical and delighted to be back and especially eager to preach this sermon to you. Especially eager. Paul said in Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 2, which you had the privilege of hearing from the elders all summer and from our staff and just some great messages, how he said, “I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And so we should do that in every text, whether from Isaiah, from the book of Genesis, from any book, we should, but it's especially easy when you're preaching from this text, which openly describes and depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and so I've been eager to preach this. Because the crucifixion of Christ, Christ's death on the cross, and his bodily resurrection is the central event of all history. I really take them together, I never separate them, I know it's appropriate from time to time to talk about the crucifixion or the resurrection, but they absolutely, completely go together. Christ was crucified and he was resurrected on the third day. And they go absolutely together.
But today we're gonna have the privilege of looking at the cross, and I'm gonna say just at the beginning, you will see nothing in the cross, none of the glory, none of the truth, none of the love, none of the radiance, you'll see none of it if you have no faith, all of the things I'm going to preach today, you must perceive by faith and by faith alone. But the beauty of the gospel is that it has the power under the Holy Spirit to give you faith. The word of God has the power to birth faith inside your heart. So if you came in here today as an unbeliever, or perhaps you were invited, perhaps you haven't been to church in years, or ever, or maybe you go regularly, but you still know yourself to be lost, you're unconverted, my prayer for you and others’ prayer has been that you'll hear the gospel, you'll see with your mind's eye with the eye of faith, Christ crucified today. It says in Galatians, before your very eyes Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. And so I wanna do that today. But only by faith will you be able to see the truths that are just gonna stream from the text today that you heard Ashok read so beautifully.
Now, it's a bit odd, this kind of interruption, I'm a verse-by-verse expositor, passage-by-passage expositor, and I'm just parachuting right in the middle of what could be seen to be a two-part sermon on the crucifixion of Christ from Matthew. That's really what it was, interrupted by months and months. But you folks have awesome memories, don't you? You know exactly what we were doing last time, ordinarily, I would say last week, but it's been months. But last time as we were looking at Matthew's gospel, Christ is on the cross, and we have the way that Matthew wrote the account, the human perspective on the cross, you have ground up and specifically that perspective of lost people looking at the cross and not seeing there what really was going on. Four different groups of people misinterpreting the cross, that was last time.
Just by way of reminder, the soldiers who mocked Jesus in the Praetorium, and who put a purple robe on him, and put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him and had no sense of his majesty and his glory. And then you had the Jews who were just walking by Golgotha, they're just walking by wherever they're going from one place to the other, seeing him there and hurling insults at him: “You, who were going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, then save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you're the son of God.” And then you had the religious leaders who were heaping insults on Jesus as you remember. “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can't save himself! He is the king of Israel, so called. Let him come down now from the cross, and we'll believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’” The mockery.
Even the thieves on the cross, both of them mocked Jesus, though they were under the same sentence as he was, both of them heaped insults on him, until one of them was miraculously converted. And we'll see him in heaven. One of the most awesome and spectacular displays of grace in all of redemptive history, that thief on the cross, but still we have all of them misinterpreting the cross of Jesus Christ. They did not understand it, they did not see it properly. And so it is today, we live in a world of people who know some things about the cross of Christ, but misinterpret it, they don't understand it properly. They do not know who he was, and the significance of what he was doing, they don't know how they relate to it, all of it.
The apostle Paul ran into this mockery, this sense of mocking when he was preaching the gospel in Athens on Mars Hill, you remember. And he was reasoning with the philosophers who were there in the Areopagus. And he reached the culmination of his gospel presentation there, speaking of Christ crucified and resurrected. And when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, they sneered, that's the world's reaction to it, the sneering of the world, the mockery of it. And for this reason, Paul wrote these words, 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Amen? And that's what you're gonna get today from me, God willing, the message of the cross. He said further, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
And so, throughout history, unbelievers have mocked the cross, they've sought to mythologize it as though it was a myth, others have somewhat as the expression goes, “damned by feigned praise,” some have found some positive attributes in the cross, short of a full understanding. And so they'll see in Jesus someone who laid down his life for a cause he really believed in, have you ever heard this kind of thing? And just showed a tremendous amount of love. Friends, without substitutionary atonement, there is no love at the cross, there's perhaps insanity, there's no love. Without Jesus as our sin bearer he's not displaying love, he's either a victim or some kind of odd insane person if he isn't dying in our place. And so, this is the approach that people like Mohandas Gandhi and others have taken, in seeing some value in the death of Christ short of understanding his deity, his incarnation, his full humanity, his substitutionary death. And so they wrongly interpret the cross of Christ.
So where are we gonna get a true interpretation of the cross of Christ? How are we going to understand it properly? Well, I would contend from the text today: from the Father alone, ultimately. God the Father will interpret the cross for us today. Amen? He's going to tell us what to think about the cross.
Now, William Cooper, a marvelous hymn writer from the 18th-19th century wrote a hymn called “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” and he was seeking to encourage people who were going through severe trials, they can't understand what God's doing. And he was a man who struggled with mental illness, with other things, and went through terrible trials. And yet his faith kept rising up again and again. And so God providentially can bring you through terrible trials, you've heard some of the things I've prayed for that are going on even in our congregation but there are others that are of different sorts. And so Cooper, trying to minister to people going through trials, says look, God moves in a mysterious way, his purposes to perform. We don't, and we're not able to understand always what he's doing. And he wrote these words, “Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.” Friends, there is no more mysterious way ever in redemptive history than the cross of Christ. It's the most mysterious thing God ever did.
And so we need him to be his own interpreter today, alright? To tell us what to think about the cross. And he will. In our text today, we're gonna see how God acted as the interpreter of the cross in some astounding ways. We're gonna see an eerie, supernatural darkness that he caused to go over not just that region, but I think over perhaps the whole earth. There's some indications that it went as far as Rome. We're gonna see it in the detailed fulfilled prophecies that are there at the cross, we're gonna see in the significance of Christ's statement, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the significance of that. We're gonna see it in the tearing of the curtain from top to bottom. We're going to see the interpretation in this supernatural earthquake that rocked the earth, when Jesus died, and in the resuscitation, resurrection, of many holy people who came to life because Jesus died at that moment.
And in all of these things, my desire is to point to the final verse of our text, in verse 54, how we have this centurion looking up and saying, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” I'm gonna actually improve a little bit on it, 'cause I think the centurion knows the truth of it now and in a very positive way, “Surely this man is the Son of God.” He was, he is, and he will be forever. And so my desire is to bring you to that point, I want all of this evidence, all of what God was doing at that time, to bring you to the point of intense strong faith. And I mean that whether you're a believer or not. If you've been a believer for decades, my desire is to make more intense and vivid than you've experienced in days, weeks, months, years, a sense of what Jesus was doing at the cross. What the Father wants you to think about the cross. It will do you good. Amen? It will do you so much good to be refreshed and renewed. But if on the other hand, you're an unbeliever, you walked in the building today as an unbeliever, my desire, I'll just lay my cards on the table, I want you to believe in Jesus for the salvation of your souls, that you would know eternal life through that.
So let's get busy. Do you think I have any hope of getting through these seven points? I think I might just move this clock back here, wait a minute. I'm sorry, I'll just leave it. Jack, I left it, I didn't touch it, I just left it. It's just how it was. Let's start.
The Father Withdraws the Daylight, for Sin Is Darkness (vs. 45)
The Father withdraws the daylight, and what I'm gonna do in each of these, I'm gonna take something from the text and then I'm gonna put a kind of a spiritual interpretation on it, okay? That's what you have in your bullets in there, so the Father withdraws the daylight for sin is darkness. Verse 45, “from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, darkness came over all the land.”
The Facts of the Darkness
So what are the facts of the darkness? They're given right there, “from the sixth hour to the ninth hour,” that would be about from noon to 3 o'clock. So midday, brightness of the sun, the brightest part of the day, from that until the ninth hour, three hours later, 3 o'clock in the afternoon, darkness. Now, according to Mark 15:25, Jesus' crucifixion began at around 9:00 in the morning, so Jesus had been on the cross for hours when this eerie darkness began.
What is the extent? Well, in the text, it says that “darkness came over the whole land.” The Greek word for land might be translated to “earth.” So you could see it this way: “the darkness came over the whole earth,” it's possible. Christian apologist Tertullian, writing in the second century, had this to say, called it a “cosmic” or a “world” event, this darkness. Evidently, it was visible in Rome and many other places around the Mediterranean. He challenged his non-Christian adversaries with these words, “At the moment of Christ's death, the light departed from the sun and the land was darkened at noon day, which wonder is related in your own annals and is preserved in your archives to this day.”
The Greek writer, Phlegon, writing around that time, or writing in 137 AD reported that around that time, “The greatest eclipse of the sun occurred, it became night in the sixth hour of the day, noon, so that the stars even appeared in the heavens.” He wrote it was during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, there was “a complete solar eclipse,” he called it, at full moon, a “solar eclipse at full moon,” he said, “from the sixth to the ninth hour.” Eusebius, writing a little bit later in his history, he said, “A great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour that excelled every other that has ever been before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in the heavens, and the Earth moved in Bithynia toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea.”
Now, what was the nature of this darkness? We don't know, these accounts are not biblical, we don't have the idea of the stars but that probably was true. It was that dark. During the time of Moses and the Exodus, they spoke of “a darkness that could be felt.” Those words aren't used here, maybe that's so, but the cause of the darkness, well, the Gentile writer said it was a solar eclipse, but he said it happened during full moon, but that's astronomically impossible. Because the Jewish Feast of Passover occurs during full moon, solar eclipses can only happen during the new moon. Lunar eclipse would not have explained such a total failing of light implied by the Greek, nor would such a total darkening effect have lasted for three hours.
So I think friends, this is a supernatural act of Almighty God. The sunlight streams across millions of miles of space to us like water flowing through a pipeline, and God just shut it down, and there was no sunlight, it seems, for a period of time. That's what it seems as you put all of these accounts together, a supernatural act of Almighty God.
The Significance of the Darkness
Why would he do it? Why would he do it? Well, you know God's first words in the Bible were, “Let there be light.” Those are the first things God says in the Bible, and “God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” So light then becomes in the scriptures a metaphor for God and his goodness, his holiness. 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you, God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.”
Now, on the fourth day of creation, God created the sun, the moon and the stars. He created the sun to shine on the earth, he gave light to the earth, and we know just from biology that that's essential, that photosynthesis is essential to all vegetative life and therefore to all animal life too. It's essential to life and so light is life for us as well. When Jesus entered the world in John chapter 1, it says in verse 4 and 5, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.” Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Now, when Jesus entered the world, it was attended by supernatural light. You remember how the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, and the glory of the Lord shone around, and so the night became like day at that point. So also we have this supernatural moving star that led the Magi on a journey and stopped over the place where the baby Jesus was, and so it was when Jesus entered the world, we have this supernatural light, it shouldn't surprise us then when Jesus leaves the world through death, we have darkness. Darkness. “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the earth.”
But it goes deeper. The darkness becomes a symbol of Satan and his realm, a symbol of the darkness of Satan and of the entire earth that's under his power, his wicked realm. Jesus said in Luke 22:53, “But this is your hour now - the hour of darkness.” It's said, when Judas took the piece of bread in John 13, Satan entered into him. Jesus said, “what you're about to do, do quickly.” And he said, “and he went out, and it was night.” That's not just telling us the time of day, that's John saying this is the time of darkness. This is the time when darkness is ruling over the earth. Satan's kingdom is the dominion of darkness, and our battle, Ephesians 6, is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms. And so while Jesus is hanging on the cross, God supernaturally blocked the sunlight to testify to Jesus as the light of the world, and Satan's dark realm.
The Future of Darkness
So what is the future of darkness? The future of darkness, judgment will come on the whole earth for its sins. There's something called the day of the Lord, and the day of the Lord is coming. And it says in Amos 5:20, “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light - Pitch-darkness, without a ray of brightness?” That's Amos 5:20. So to some degree, you could argue that it was the day of the Lord then as Jesus was dying for his sheep, that that was our day of the Lord, and so there was a darkness and not light as Jesus was dying.
And so the coming day of the Lord, the coming judgment day, is going to be also a day of darkness and not of light. In Isaiah 13, it says, “Behold the day of the Lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger - to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sins.” Jesus in Matthew 24, talking about his second coming, he said, “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be dark and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”
Revelation 8:12, “The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon and the third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.”
But even that's not the ultimate future of darkness, not at all, because the wicked, the unregenerate, the unsaved, the unbelievers are going to be cast out into utter darkness, outer darkness. Jesus said in Matthew 25:30, “thrown outside,” that's the word outside, “into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Conversely, the children of God, the believers will live in a realm of endless light, we ourselves will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father, and there will be no sun or moon or stars or the light of the lamp, because the glory of God is going to radiate that whole world, and we will bask in its light forever and ever. And so the Father withdrew the light of the sun because sin is darkness.
The Father Withdraws from the Son, for Sin Breaks Fellowship with God (vs. 46)
Secondly, the father withdraws from the son himself, for sin breaks fellowship with God. Verse 46, “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Infinite Mystery in this Moment
Here, at this moment, we are just stepping into sacred ground into infinite mystery, infinite mystery. I can't capture in words adequately, the infinite mystery of the Trinity, the relationship between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. It's an infinite mystery. But there's some things we have to say here. The Doctrine of the Trinity is infinitely mysterious. Then the Doctrine of the Incarnation, infinitely mysterious, and they come together at this moment. How can we comprehend the concept of the Trinity? Of one God and only one God, infinitely separate from his creation above all things, perfectly holy above everything he ever made? One God, but eternally existing in three persons the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.
How can we understand these things? We can't fully grasp them, but we accept them. This is the orthodox doctrine we've been entrusted. And this one God, this triune God is eternal, he never changes. In his essential being, he never will change. He never has changed, he never will change. He cannot change. It's impossible. Dear friends, if the Trinity for a moment ceased to exist as such, the universe would stop existing, and the Father's love for the Son is perfect and unchangeable, he loves the son with a love we can't fathom. It's an intense love, the intensity of it is similar to the raging fire of the sun, that we see every day up in the sky, that's how much the Father loves the Son only infinitely more.
Only By This Statement Can We See This Spiritual Reality
Well, then what's going on here? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Well, now we have the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Jesus, 100 percent God, is also 100 percent human. 100 percent human. And as a human being, he was our sin bearer at this moment, He took on our sinfulness; while he was on the cross, he was completely sinful and wicked positionally, though he himself had committed no sin.
And so Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It's a cry of loneliness, of isolation from Almighty God because of his role as our sin bearer, and it's a cry from the pit of hell, really. Total abandonment by God, and deeper, a wrath being poured out on Jesus. And so it says in Isaiah 53: 10, “It was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” And so he's experiencing hell on the cross. Jesus, the focus of the infinite wrath and power of God directed against sinners, and we have the abandonment of a sinner in hell pictured here, as he says “why have you forsaken me?” God-forsaken.
God is the giver of every good gift there is, you know that, every good and perfect gift comes from God. Everything you enjoy in this life comes from God, whether you acknowledge him or not, all of them come from God. And in God alone is fullness of joy, perfection of joy. Psalm 16, “In your presence is the fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Earlier in that Psalm, in Psalm 16:2, it says, “You are my Lord.” “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, apart from you, I have no good thing.’” That's hell, friends, hell. Apart from God, they have no good thing. So if you should ever meet a lost person, who says, “I'm eager to go to hell, that's where all my friends will be.” You should say probably with tears in your eyes, “I hope not. I hope all your friends won't be there, but if they're there, they won't be there as your friends. Friendship is a gift from God. That's what you're enjoying now, you won't enjoy friendship with anyone in hell. You'll be wailing and gnashing your teeth if that's where you go. Oh, flee the wrath to come. Flee the wrath to come.”
The Sinlessness of Jesus … and the Substitution of Jesus
Now, it's important for us to acknowledge Jesus was sinless, he didn't commit any sins. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth,” 1 Peter 2:22. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And this Isaiah 53, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought him peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That's why that cry happened right here, that's it. He himself sinless, but perfectly sinful, in God's sight, positionally as our substitute.
Without Understanding This, We Will Understand Nothing of the Cross
Without understanding that, you will not understand the cross. Infinite God, perfect God, yes, but human. Perfectly holy in himself, but a substitute, the transfer of guilt. And without that, you can't understand the cross. So this sermon is an attempt at God's interpretation of the cross, it's even better, just read Romans 3. How about that? Romans 3:23-25 will give you God's interpretation of the cross: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a propitiation through faith in his blood.” That's God's interpretation of the cross, propitiation, the turning aside of God's wrath by the giving of a sacrifice.
The Father Fulfills a Final Prophecy, for Christ Died According to Scripture (vs. 47-49)
Thirdly, the Father fulfills a final prophecy, for Christ died according to the scriptures. “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of those standing there heard this, they said ‘He's calling Elijah.’ Immediately, one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and then offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him.’”
Jesus was Quoting Psalm 22: The Clearest Depiction of Crucifixion in the Old Testament
Well, as I preached often before from this pulpit, Jesus is clearly quoting Psalm 22 there. He's not just saying something that came to mind, he's quoting the first verse of Psalm 22. To some degree, not only was Jesus crying out of the emptiness of his heart, in his broken relationship with the Father as I just described a moment ago, but he was also saying “hey, watching world, read Psalm 22.” Because there it was clearly predicted that Jesus would die by crucifixion.
Clearly predicted that Jesus would die by crucifixion, because it says in Psalm 22:16-18, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones, people stare and gloat over me, they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” They have pierced my hands and my feet. I know of no other form of death by which anyone could die other than crucifixion, in which your hands and feet are pierced. Clearly, Psalm 22 predicting the death of Jesus on the cross, God the Father spoke that a thousand years, a thousand years before Jesus came through the prophet, through David, as he wrote that psalm. Isn't it fascinating that Matthew literally quotes what Jesus said? He tried in the Greek language to try to get the Aramaic into our ears. That's how important this was. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” you can't really get it across in Greek or in English, but he wants us to hear that.
So Also Jesus Drank According to Scripture
Not only that, but there's a detail, there was this jar of wine vinegar there, and so they ran and got a sponge and filled it with wine vinegar and lifted it to his mouth for him to drink. This is also the fulfillment of prophecy, detailed prophecy, it's more highlighted in John's gospel, in John 19:28-29, later, it says there, “knowing that all was now completed, and so that the scripture would be fulfilled, he said ‘I thirst.’” I love this in John's gospel, “a jar of wine vinegar was there,” or we'll put it this way, “a jar of wine vinegar just happened to be there.” No, the Father put it there. I don't know what man or woman put it there, but it doesn't matter, the Father put it there. Why? So that he could fulfill the scripture. Why? So that you and I, reading it, could know that Jesus is the Christ and believing in him have eternal life. It's by the fulfillment of these detailed prophecies. What prophecy? Psalm 69:21, which says “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
The Misunderstanding by the Crowd
Tiny detail, and yet these little details are so powerful in giving us a certitude of our faith. We can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Father put all this together. And yet the crowd misinterprets again. When he says “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” they think he's calling Elijah. Now, Elijah means “Yahweh is My God.” Eli is “my God, my God.” So it's there but they didn't hear it right. Please hear it right today. Jesus isn't calling Elijah there. And yet they're saying leave him alone, let's see if Elijah comes for him.
The Father Receives His Son’s Spirit, for the Death Penalty Had to Be Paid (vs. 50)
Fourth, the Father receives his son's spirit for the death penalty had to be paid. Verse 50, “When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”
Here… He Simply “Gave Up His Spirit”… He Chose to Die Exactly When He Did
There it is, simply he gave up his spirit. You can't do that, neither can I. Jesus had a unique relationship with life and death, unlike anyone else that's ever lived. Now, it says “when Jesus had cried out in a loud voice,” it's Luke that tells us what he cried. He says in Luke 23:46, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” So he's very Father-centered, and he says, “Father, I am giving you now my spirit.” The removal of the spirit from the body is called death. So “into your hands, I'm giving you this death, I'm presenting to you this death.”
Jesus was In Total Control of His Death
Now, Jesus was in total control of this moment, absolute control of this moment. You are not, but he is. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus said in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me. But I lay it down freely of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back up again.” So in a kind of a mysterious way, the crucifixion didn't kill him, it didn't kill him. How long if Jesus had not willed to die, do you think Jesus could have lasted on the cross? He could still be there now if he wanted to, or they could shove as many spears into his side, they could shoot... I mean, if he didn't wanna die, he's not gonna die. He'll instantly heal himself all the time. It's just he doesn't... You can't kill him, he's almighty God. And if he wanted to stay on the cross, he would have.
Actually, Pilate was surprised he was dead that quickly. Usually it'd take a long time, that's the whole point of crucifixion, it's just a very terrible way to die, and so in Mark 15:44, Pilate was surprised to hear he was already dead. So Jesus just dies. He just gives... Everything's finished, there's nothing at to do, and so he just dies, he gives up his spirit. “Into your hands I commit my spirit. “
Just As Jesus Was In Total Control of His Birth
Just as Jesus was in total control of his birth and neither were you. Neither were you. He said to Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this I entered the world, to testify to the truth.” None of us can talk like that. Why did you choose to be born and how did you make the choice on your parents?
You may say why did I make the choice on that set of parents? And they may be saying the same thing about you. You folks had no choice in the matter, alright? You were given to each other as a gift from God, alright? But you didn't make any choice. Jesus chose to enter the world and he chose to leave it.
Why? The Death Penalty Had to Be Paid… the Wages of Sin
Why though, why? Why did he die? Well because from the very beginning in the garden of Eden, there's been a link between sin and death. As it says in Romans chapter 5, “Just as through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and death through sin.” Death is a penalty for sin, “the wages of sin is death.” We all deserve to die, we're guilty sinners, and we die because we're guilty, because we're sinners. That's why we die. But there's this death penalty that had to be paid. And there's a second death, we've already talked about it, hell is the second death, and Jesus came to pay that infinite final death penalty. He had to die. And so in effect, by saying, “Father into your hands I commit this death, I commit my spirit,” he's saying the penalty has been paid. The justice of the Father has been satisfied. The wrath of God is done. Into your hands I've paid the penalty now. They, my sheep don't need to die the second death. Praise God.
The Father Tears the Curtain in the Temple, for the Way to God is Now Open (vs. 51)
Fifth, the Father tears the curtain in the temple for the way to God is now open. Oh, that you would walk through it. That's my prayer that you would walk through that opening that Jesus has made for you now and not stay on the outside. Look at verse 51, “At that moment, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
The Tearing of the Curtain = Full Access to God
That curtain we're told, separated the holy place from the most holy place, or as I love it in the King James, “the holy of holies,” the place that only the high priest could enter once a year and never without blood. The tearing of the curtain then represents free full access to the holy God of the universe.
“From Top to Bottom” = Only God Can Remove This Barrier… Man Could Not
And it's said here that it was torn in two from top to bottom. First of all, this was a substantial curtain. Indications are that it was 60 feet long and 30 feet high, that's a three-storied building. Four inches thick, made up of 72 squares sewn together, so heavy it took 300 men to lift it. It was a heavy thing. Heavy barrier, okay? And the fact that it was torn from top to bottom shows that this was an action of God, only God could remove this barrier.
Now, I think there's only two ways we could know that it happened from top to bottom. If you came 20 minutes later and saw the thing rent asunder, you would think that someone did it, but they would have to have done it from bottom to top, right? Man does it from bottom to top. God does it from top to bottom, so there's only two ways we could know it: either God revealed it directly to Matthew as he wrote this gospel, and that's possible. Prophets get a lot of information directly, we'd have no other way of knowing, just God said it, that's possible.
But I like it better that just like many of the gospel writers got their information from eyewitnesses, could there be eyewitnesses of that it was torn from top to bottom? Yes. Who would they be? Believing priests. In Acts chapter 6, it says many of the priests became obedient to the faith. So we have believing priests that were standing there and it's like, “Wow. Wow.” And it must have been loud too. What a rip. What a rip. And they're standing there and “Wow.” From top to bottom, it's a miracle.
Old Covenant: “Do Not Come Any Closer”
What did it represent? It represented the holy God saying to a sinful human race, the veil did, this far you may come but no further. I am a consuming fire and in all of your wickedness, if you come any closer, I will destroy you.
It's what he said to Moses from the flames of the burning bush, you remember? First thing he said after “Moses! Moses!” Moses came over to look, the first thing he said is, “Do not come any closer.” That's the old covenant to me. No closer.
New Covenant: “Let Us Draw Near to God”
New covenant? You know, we have free access. We have free access. Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Ephesians 3:12, “In him and through faith in him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” How sweet is that. How sweet is that.
New and Living Way
And again, Hebrews 10:19-22, “Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the most holy place through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Draw near to God in holiness. That's what he's saying.
The Essence of Unbelieving Judaism: Sewing the Curtain Up, and Putting it Back
Now, let me make just a brief aside here, the essence of unbelieving Judaism is that some priests sewed it back up and put it back up. The sacrificial system went on for decades after Jesus died. Somebody sewed it back up. How would you like to be the person that sewed that back up? How would you like to face God and give an explanation for that?
And some time ago, I made this connection. You remember concerning marriage, Jesus said in Matthew 19, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” Well, let me tell you when it comes to this curtain, what God has ripped apart, let man not sew back up again. Jesus said concerning the Scribes and Pharisees, “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves don't enter, nor will you allow those enter who are trying to.” They sewed it back up. God then just destroyed the whole thing, when the Romans burned the temple. Now it's gone, it's gone. What God shuts, no one can open. What God opens, no one can shut. Praise God for that. So we have free access to almighty God because of the death of Jesus.
The Father Shakes the Earth, for There Will Be a New Heaven and Earth (vs. 51)
Sixth, the Father shakes the earth, for there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Look at verse 51, “The earth shook and the rocks split.”
Terrifying, Monstrously Huge Earthquake!
Terrifying, monstrously huge earthquake. Some indications I’ve already given you that this was a worldwide earthquake, at least going as far as Bithynia, Nicaea and Rome. What does it signify? Well, it signifies that God is showing up. Again and again, when God shows up, he shakes the earth, he shakes the earth.
Symbolic of the Physical Effects on the Earth of the Event of Jesus Death
Think about Psalm 18:7-9, “The earth trembled and quaked and the foundations of the mountain shook; They trembled because God was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet.” So God shows up there in Psalm 18 in wrath and anger, divine judgment, and the earth shakes. The earth also shook when God brought the Old Covenant to Mount Sinai, you remember it's the nation of Israel is around Mount Sinai. It says in Exodus 19:18, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire.” So God descending, God descending. “The smoke bellowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.”
So that's God shaking the earth with the establishment of the Old Covenant, now he shakes the earth with the establishment of the new covenant. How sweet is that? How powerful is that? And once more, God will return and shake the earth again. Amen. He's going to shake the earth again, the end of the world, the judgment, God will descend in wrath on this earth, this sin-cursed world. In Revelation 6, it says, “I watched as he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake."
Revelation 16, “The Seventh Angel poured his bowl into the air and there was a severe earthquake, no earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the earthquake. The great city split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed. And God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains were removed.” So that's God pouring out judgement and wrath on the Earth and removing them.
Now, it says in Hebrews 12:26-27, “At that time, his voice shook the earth,” Sinai, “but now once more he has promised, ‘Once more, I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.’ Now, the words ‘once more’ indicate the removal of what can be shaken - so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Alright, what's gonna remain after he shakes the present heaven and earth? The new heaven and the new earth. So this was an earth-shaking experience, the death of Jesus, because it pointed to things that can be shaken so that what cannot be shaken will one day come. There will be a new heaven, and there will be a new earth.
The Father Raises the Dead, for Christ is the Resurrection and Life (vs. 52-53)
And then seventh, The Father raises the dead for Christ is the resurrection and the life. “The tombs broke open, the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, they came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”
This is the Greatest Result of All: Death Has Been Defeated for God’s People
This is only found here in this gospel. It's not in Mark, Luke or John. It's an interesting detail here. Really, ultimately for us on the outside looking in, as we are on the outside, reading and trying to understand what happened with the death of Christ, this is the best part of all.
This is Jesus bringing his resurrection victory to us. That's a foretaste here. It's a foretaste, just a foretaste. The whole sermon has been God's interpretation of Christ's crucifixion. In God's eyes the whole reason for Christ's death was that God's people might be forgiven of their sins and raised from the dead and live forever, that's the whole reason for all of it, and so this is indications of that purpose that God had, that interpretation of the cross. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, he who believes in him will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in him will never die.
Resuscitation, Not Resurrection
Now, I believe this was a resuscitation, not a resurrection. You know the difference? Well, the difference is resurrection, you're in your resurrection body and you'll never die again. This was like Lazarus being raised after four days. Does that make sense? Why do I say that? I think it's very important that I say this, 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, it speaks of Jesus “As in Adam, all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Listen, “But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come.” Do you see there's an order to things? Jesus is the firstfruits, and therefore he gets a resurrection body first.
These guys, they just get resuscitated, they come back into the same life they had before. And they went and saw some of the people they knew before, how would you like to have received such a visit? You thought grandma was dead. You thought your husband was dead, you thought your wife was dead, they were dead, and we don't know how long they were dead, they might have been dead for years. I have no idea. It's amazing, we have no indications. With Lazarus we know how long it was, but these people just came and they appeared to many people, it says. Wow. Wow.
Application: Follow the Centurion in Learning these Lessons (vs. 54)
Testify to your Faith with the Centurion
So what application do we take from all of this? I'm gonna wanna give you three. First is just right from the text, verse 54, “When the centurion and those who were with him who were guarding Jesus saw that the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’”
So after all of this evidence, all these things going on... The centurion didn't have all that you guys have in this sermon here, he wasn't aware of the fulfilled prophecy, he wasn't aware of a lot of things, the significance of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But he's just looking at the physical stuff, the earthquake, the darkness and all that, watching how Jesus died, how he carried himself so differently. Maybe hearing him say, “Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing.”
And you know what, I think that really is the key moment there for the Centurion, but what do you call it when Jesus addresses God and asks him for something? Isn't that prayer? What's Jesus' batting average on prayer? What would you imagine? How much of what he asks the Father do you think he gets? I think 100 percent. What do you say? Batting, in the baseball terminology, a thousand, he's batting a thousand, right? He gets 100 percent of what he asks for. All of it. Alright? Did he get that? Did they get forgiven? These that were crucifying him? And you could say, “Well, maybe they just got forgiven for the crucifixion, but not for all the rest of their sins.” What good is that? That's of no use. Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them. And the first indication of that is this Centurion speaking faith, surely He was not a righteous man or a good man, but here in Matthew, the Son of God, God the Son.
I guess the best application for you is look at all of this evidence and come to the same conclusion, look, look with eyes of faith at the crucified and resurrected Christ and say, “Truly, you are the son of God,” and if you can make that confession your sins will all be forgiven, all of them. And if you made that confession years ago, your sins are all forgiven and they will be forgiven and you'll die forgiven and you'll go to heaven forgiven, so rejoice and be glad in that.
But if you came in here and you're lost and you don't know him, I'm pleading with you, don't leave here unconverted, all you need to do is just call on the name of Jesus, just say “Jesus,” do in your heart right now. You don't have to speak any word, just say, “Jesus, save me, I wanna be saved. You know I'm a sinner, you know, I came here 'cause so and so invited me, but this is the gospel, I want to be forgiven. Forgive me, O Lord, because of the blood of Jesus.”
Boldly Approach the Throne of Grace
Secondly, if you have been a Christian for years and years, long time, can I just urge you go to Hebrews 4:16, and you don't have to turn there, but just listen. Again, I've already quoted it once, but I'll say it again, “Let us approach then the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” I prayed for people who are going through medical challenges, can I just urge you, approach the throne of grace every day. Ask that the Lord will sustain your faith. Feeding your faith.
And if you are the spouse of someone who's facing such a challenge, go every day to the throne of grace, go right through that rent curtain, and go right into the presence of almighty God and get what you need. If you're a student beginning school, maybe you're a freshman, maybe it's your senior year, you don't know what kind of job opportunities. Go through the opening in the curtain to get from God the grace you need. If you're struggling with sin, you're struggling with temptations, you're struggling with who knows what? Addictions, whatever. Go through the rent curtain to the throne of grace and get what you need from it.
Don’t Fear Death
And then thirdly, if I can just say very tenderly, especially of those who are gonna feel this pretty acutely, don't fear death. Amen. Don't fear it, the sting of death has been removed forever by the events that we covered today. The Father has interpreted the cross to you today by the Spirit. Take these interpretations up, treasure them and walk in them. Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for speaking now through your word and through the Spirit. O Lord, take these truths and press them into our hearts. May we live in them, Oh Lord, may we get strength by them. May we walk in them. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.