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Matthew 27:45-54: Four Events of Passion Week: His Death on the Cross Print E-mail
Easter Season
Sunday, 17 April 2011

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Every good story has a turning point, the point where everything changes.  The stage has been set, the characters identified, the conflict has built, and the moment comes when the resolution is introduced, and from that point on the outcome is sure.  Granted, not all stories follow that pattern, but in my opinion, the good ones do.  The story of our redemption in the pages of the Bible follows along these lines.  God has created the world and granted life to humanity.  Yet, mankind has rebelled against Him and rejected His rule.  The conflict builds through the stories of the Old Testament saints.  The resolution has been promised but has not yet arrived.  Then we come to the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They introduce us to Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, born to set His people free from their sins (see Matthew 1:21).  Jesus lives a perfect life, teaching and healing and ministering to those that follow Him, revealing that He is indeed the promised Messiah.  Along the way, He speaks of His coming death, that He will give His life as a ransom for many and initiate a new covenant with His blood.  He makes it clear in His prayer in the garden that He will suffer under Godís righteous wrath.  Everything has been building to this moment.  It is the turning point in the history of our redemption.  Nothing will ever be the same after Jesusí death and resurrection.

Matthew writes of Jesusí death in chapter 27 of His gospel.  The first half of the chapter (v. 1-26) deals with the trials that Jesus faced ending with Pilate delivering Him over to be crucified.  The rest of the chapter deals with His beatings and actual crucifixion.  Matthew tells us about Him being mocked as the King of the Jews and for claiming that He is the Son of God.  Then He describes Jesus crying out to God, while hanging on the cross.  Look at verse 46.  Jesus quoting from Psalm 22 gives us important insight into what is taking place on Golgotha.  This is not mere physical suffering.  No, just as Jesus prayed in the garden, we see Him here drinking down the cup of Godís wrath against our sin.  In this one verse we see the Father forsaking the Son and the Son bearing the weight of the judgment that we deserved.  We see in this moment the true cost of our sin: God the Son suffering under God the Fatherís wrath.  If you have repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, then this is how you were saved.  This is the price of your redemption.  Just after this cry, Matthew tells us that Jesus yielded up his spirit and died (v. 50).  This is the turning point: the death of Jesus in our place.

Some do not like to talk about Jesus suffering under Godís wrath against our sin.  Yet, the New Testament writers glory in it.  Paul writes of our justification through faith and notes that through it we shall be saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).  Later, he will conclude: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  He writes of Jesus becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) and canceling the record of debt that stood against us (Colossians 2:14).  And in one of my favorite passages he proclaims: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).  Jesus suffered under Godís wrath so that by trusting in Him we would never have to.  Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross so that through faith in Christ we never have to fear being forsaken.  Indeed, this is the turning point of our redemption.  Our hope is firmly set on Christ crucified.

Yet, when you read of Christís death in the Gospels themselves do you really see any of this?  I mean, sure Paul tells us what the death of Christ accomplished for us, but does Matthew?  Although the gospel writers do not go into all of the details that the rest of the New Testament will outline for us, we still see some important truths about the death of Jesus through some of the immediate results and responses that Matthew records.  In the rest of our time together, I simply want to identify these responses and results and consider what they reveal about the death of our Savior.

What immediate results and responses do we see at Jesusí death?

Let me quickly just run through a list of results and responses that Matthew mentions.  First, we see the darkening of the skies from noon until three.  Look at verse 45.  For three hours the sky was dark in Jerusalem as Jesus died on the cross.  Second, we see various responses from men.  In verses 39-44 Matthew describes the bystanders and the chief priests and the elders all mocking Jesus in various ways.  Then in verses 47-49 we see some responses to Jesusí crying out to God.  Look at those verses with me.  Again, it seems as if those around the cross are mocking Jesus.  They think He is crying out for Elijah since it was believed that Elijah would come and comfort the righteous in their suffering.  Whatever we conclude about the offering of sour wine, we can at least say that they do not understand correctly what is taking place.  They only see a criminal who made outrageous claims dying under the curse of God.  Yet, as we will note in a moment, there are others who see more clearly. 

Third, we see the tearing of the curtain in the temple.  Look at verse 51a.  Two curtains were in the temple at this time and most see this as a reference to the actual curtain that was before the Holy of Holies.  Only a priest could enter this area and only once a year.  The curtain that Matthew tells us was torn from top to bottom was intended to keep people out of this area.  Fourth, we are told that the earth shook, and the rocks were split (v. 51b).  Like the darkness, this was another physical response of the created order.  Fifth, Matthew tells us of the opening of the tombs in verses 52-53.  Look at those verses with me.  It is possible that this did not take place until after the resurrection since verse 53 seems to point to that interpretation.  But either way, Matthew connects the raising of these saints with the death of Christ on the cross.  Finally, we see the praise of the Centurion.  Look at verse 54.  It is difficult to know exactly how much these eyewitnesses understood, but unlike the Jewish religious leaders, they knew enough to say of Jesus: Truly this was the Son of God!  And of course, they were Gentiles no less.

What do these immediate results and responses reveal about Jesusí death?

So then, Matthew records for us all of these results and responses at Christís death, but what can we learn from them?  What do they reveal to us about Christ and His death on the cross?

First, they reveal that Christ did die under the wrath of God.  Again, since some are uncomfortable with the idea that God the Father was punishing God the Son for our sins at the cross, it is important to see how these immediate results and responses point to this truth.  Although some want to explain the darkness as mere coincidence or an eclipse, it seems obvious to me that the darkness represents the outpouring of Godís wrath against evil.  They were dark hours in every way.  Michael Lawrence agrees: ďThis darkness was a supernatural act of God, and it was the portent of his wrath (cf. Joel 2:31; Amos 5:20)ÖLike the three-day plague of darkness that preceded the judgment against the firstborn of Egypt (Ex. 10:21ff.), this darkness is the darkness of judgment.Ē1  The darkness points to Godís wrath being poured out on Christ.  Likewise, the response of the bystanders indicates the Jesus was dying under the curse of God.  They respond to a criminal being hung on a tree.  Any man hanging on a tree is dying under the curse of God, and they respond accordingly.  In this we see that Paul and other New Testament writers saw clearly that Jesus died under the wrath of God.

Second, these responses and results reveal that Jesus really did secure access for men into Godís presence.  This is what the tearing of the temple curtain teaches us.  The holy of holies was restricted.  The presence of God was not free to all.  Yet, when Jesus died, He became our High Priest, the one, true Mediator between God and man.  And as the author of Hebrews points out (see Hebrews 10:19ff), we now have access to God through the blood of Christ.  The tearing of the temple curtain reveals this glorious truth.

Third, these events reveal that creation itself will groan until the return of Christ.  The darkness and the earthquake point to the fact that redemption involves the whole earth.  As Paul teaches us in Romans 8, even now the created order is groaning for the final Day.  Jesusí death will impact as far as the curse is found, which includes creation itself.

Fourth, the immediate results and responses reveal that men will be raised from the grave.  We will consider this more as we look at Jesusí resurrection next week, but since Matthew included it here, we need to once again note the connection between Jesusí death and our resurrection.  Jesusí death marks the death of death (to borrow a phrase from John Newton).  As John Mark McMillan sings: ďThe man Jesus Christ laid death in His grave.Ē2  There is victory over the grave though faith in the work of Christ at the cross.

Finally, the immediate responses to Jesusí death reveal that men will respond in various ways to what happened at the cross.  Some will continually mock the death of Christ.  They will wonder: ĎHow can you serve and worship a god who died on a tree under the wrath of His own Father?í  As Paul will later write, the cross will be foolishness to them (see 1 Corinthians 1:18).  Yet, to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  We cry out with the Centurion: Truly this was the Son of God!  For all of those who turn from their sins and put their faith in Jesus, the cross is our glory.  It is our hope and our peace.  It is how we know that God loves us.  It is the undeniable proof of His love for undeserving sinners.  We need no other evidence.

So then, let me close with a simple question: what is your response to Jesusí death on the cross?  Perhaps you are here and you have never surrendered your life to Christ.  Let me encourage to not delay.  Be saved from the wrath to come by trusting in the sacrifice of Christ.  If you are here and you are a believer in Christ, just let me encourage you to believe in the glorious truths revealed at the cross: Godís wrath against your sin has been satisfied, your access to God has been secured, Creation is waiting with us for our future adoption, and you will be raised from the dead through your faith.  All because of His death on the cross!  Amen.

1 Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It is Well (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 88.
2 John Mark McMillan, ďDeath in His GraveĒ on the album The Medicine.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 January 2012 )

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