Back to the Basics: Jesus Christ, the Suffering Savior of our Sins (Matt. 27:45-54)
We are working through a section in our statement of faith that focuses on the person of Jesus Christ. Again, for review, when we say the person of Jesus Christ, we mean: undiminished deity and perfect humanity in one person forever. The portion reads as follows:
5. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent by the Father, begotten by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary; that He lived a sinless and obedient life, suffered and died on the cross vicariously for the sins of those who believe in Him; that God raised Him from the dead, exalted Him both as Lord and Christ, and gave Him the Holy Spirit for His Church.
7. That Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and men; through Him and only through Him the believer has access to the Father.
We have discussed His humanity and last week we examined His deity. Today, though Good Friday is a couple of weeks away, we will meditate on our Lord’s death this morning. I want to travel with Matthew to the 27th chapter and look at some of the events, some supernatural, surrounding the death of Christ. We talk often of the birth miracles---the star, the angel visitations and the virgin birth. However, we never really hear about the death miracles. This may be because Jesus resurrected in three days and we jump straight from the death to the resurrection. We often read these death miracles in passing, but upon closer examination, God is actually giving us His commentary on the significance of the cross. What do these events tells us about the most important death in all of history? According to this text, what does the cross mean for us who believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior? First of all:
I. Darkness: God’s judgment of sin (v.45)
We pick up the story at the site of the crucifixion. Matthew tells us that it is now the sixth hour. This means it is 12pm, noon. Mark tells us that the actual crucifixion began at the third hour, or 9am (Mark 15:25). A lot of things had happened already in these first three hours. Jesus has already uttered three of His seven cries from the cross. He has prayed for the soldiers who were crucifying him. He has also promised the criminal hanging next to Him that he would be with Him in paradise. And He has commended his mother to the care of the beloved disciple, John.
While this was going on, the crowd is pretty boisterous, like though they are at a sporting event. Some are probably betting on how long each of the crucified men will last. The religious leaders, including the chief priests and teachers of the law are taunting Him. Pastor Ray Pritchard adds, “He [Christ] has already been severely beaten. In fact, it looks like four or five soldiers have taken turns working him over. His skin hangs from his back in tatters, his face is bruised and swollen, his eyes nearly shut. Blood trickles from a dozen open wounds. He is an awful sight to behold.” Most criminals die with the beating before the crucifixion. But Jesus has withstood a lot already. He is then lifted up on a cross beam, with nails through His wrists and ankles, since both places have very sensitive nerve centers, guaranteeing constant torture. They would also humiliate the crucified by stripping off all their clothes.
Some crucifixions go on for days. At some point, the soldiers would break the legs of the crucified because “this would ensure that the man, if still alive, could no longer hoist himself up to breathe and would soon expire.” Jesus would die before they could break His legs (John 19:33). But nevertheless, as we all know, death by crucifixion was very slow, but excruciating pain. But that is nothing. Jesus was about to suffer a much more serious kind of pain.
Notice in the text: “there was a darkness over all the land.” All of a sudden, darkness, like though someone took a thick, black blanket and draped it over the sun. It happened so suddenly. One minute the sun was bright, shining overhead at the hottest and brightest time of the day. The next minute it disappears. Was this an eclipse? Were these dark clouds of a storm? It doesn’t matter how it happened and it is futile to try to figure it out. This was simply was a supernatural act of God. Luke writes interestingly that the “sun’s light failed”(Luke 23:45). God, who turned on all the lights at creation, now turns it off almost like He’s saying, “You don’t want to see what’s going to happen next.” Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12), the One who had a bright star flooding the sky at His birth, now faces darkness all around Him.
But why? Why the darkness? What is God saying here? Whenever darkness is mentioned in Scripture, it almost always refers to one thing: judgment (Isa. 5:30; 60:2; Joel 2:30, 31; Amos 5:18, 20; Zeph. 1:14–18; Matt. 24:29, 30; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 2:17; Rev. 6:12–17). In Rev. 6:12, when God’s wrath is poured out on the earth, the text says the “sun became black.” So darkness is a symbol of judgment. God is light and if light symbolizes all that God is, then darkness symbolizes all that God opposes and what does God oppose? God opposes sin and everything that comes as a result of it. And sin is the only thing that God judges.
Jesus is being condemned here…IN OUR PLACE. God is judging sin here. Since Christ is sinless (Heb. 4:14; 1 Pet. 2:22), it must have been our sin that God is judging. And Christ is silent he—no excuses, no explanations---in the darkness because He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). He is found guilty on our behalf. It should have been us standing before God, silent as the darkness of our sin is exposed before Him.
Listen beloved, we have some dark sins. Darkness has covered our hearts because of sin. But here, look at our Savior. He has taken your darkness and all of our darkness. Because He was judged for your sin and if you have placed your trust completely on Him for your salvation, God will never ever judge you ever again. You cannot be tried for the same crime twice. This is the law of double jeopardy. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Our sin was judged there. This is what is called the divine exchange. Our sin exchanged for His righteousness.
Listen to the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther: “Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ . . . My dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.’ Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation.”
I only stand here only because Christ dwells among sinners. Welcome Him and worship Him now as the One who took our darkness, being judged for our sin. Secondly, notice:
II. Christ Forsaken/Curtain Torn: God’s presence is guaranteed (v.46-49, 51a)
Not a word from Christ for three hours as God’s wrath is unleashed on Him, as He is judged for our sin as our substitutionary sacrifice. But around 3pm, the darkness disappears. God’s fury is spent. Christ speaks again. The judgment is about to end in His death.
Jesus does not just speak here. He literally screams, with a loud voice. This is pretty amazing, considering He has been hanging on a cross for six hours, having carried a 200 pound beam up the hill, with his body slumped in a position that suffocates your internal organs, your muscles are taut, cramped being unable to move. Matthew uses the Hebrew for “My God” which is “Eli, Eli.” The rest “Lama sabachthani” is in the local language of that day, Aramaic, which is translated, “Why have you forsaken me?” John Macarthur notes, “And He is saying in effect by the personal possessive pronoun, ‘Your Mine. Where did You go?’"
Here we have probably the most mysterious verse in all of Scripture. Martin Luther once meditated on this verse for hours, only to stand up and exclaim, “God forsaking God! How can it be?” And theologians and scholars have spent lifetimes studying this and so I will not even try to explain all that is going on here. What we do know is that Jesus did not cease to be God here. But God did cease to have fellowship with Christ. He turned His face away, abandoned His communion with Jesus’ human nature because God cannot look upon sin. Christ’s faith as man did not fail Him, as He calls upon God personally with a “My God My God.” And Christ did not just feel like God forsook Him. God literally abandoned Him because at this moment Christ became sin (2 Cor. 5:21).
God, being perfectly holy, treated Him as having committed every sin you and I would ever make and thus had to move away from looking at His Son. Pastor Ray Pritchard adds, “All the lust in the world was there. All the broken promises were there. All the murder, all the killing, all the hatred between people. All the theft was there, all the adultery, all the pornography, all the drunkenness, all the bitterness, all the greed, all the gluttony, all the drug abuse, all the crime, all the cursing. Every vile deed, every wicked thought, every vain imagination—all of it was laid upon Jesus when he hung on the cross.” This is hell, beloved, being truly separated from God.
This is probably the worst part that Christ had to suffer, to lose the presence of His Father. He does not cry out, “Why has Peter forsaken me?” or “Why has Judas betrayed me?” Jesus had felt sharp wounds, but the desertion of fellowship and intimacy from His Father was the sharpest wound there was. This is the only time of all His prayers that He uses the formal, distant word “God” rather than “Abba” or “Father.” The Father-Son relationship is broken. Max Lucado observes, “The King turns away from his Prince. The undiluted wrath of a sin-hating Father falls upon his sin-filled Son. The fire envelops him. The shadows hide him. The Son looks for his Father, but the Father cannot be seen… It was the most gut-wrenching cry of loneliness in history, and it came not from a prisoner or a widow or a patient. It came from a hill, from a cross, from a Messiah. ‘My God, my God," he screamed, "Why did you abandon me!’ Never have words carried such hurt. Never has one being been so lonely. The despair is darker than the sky.”
C.S. Lewis once said, “The ‘hiddenness’ of God perhaps presses most painfully on those who are in another way nearest to Him, and therefore God Himself, made man, will of all men be by God most forsaken.” If the customer rep on the phone hangs up on you, you might feel upset for a little while, or if someone cuts you off on the road, you might be angry that moment, but if your parents said they wanted nothing ever to do with you or if your spouse or best friend who you spent your entire life with, all of a sudden cuts of all communication with you, that would be an entirely different situation. That is what is going on here. The closer the relationship, the deeper the hurt. Here we have a cry from a child who felt forsaken by the One whom He had fellowship and intimacy and relationship with from Eternity past. I cannot put my mind around it! I can only bow at the scene and take off my shoes. This is holy ground.
I wonder what Abraham thought of this scene? He was asked by God to tie up his one and only son and just as he was about to plunge the knife into him, an angel stops him and commends him for being able to not even withhold his only son from God (Gen. 22:12). Here, God takes the knife and plunges it into His Son. No angel to interrupt. No other substitute. Little did Abraham know that day what God was planning to do by giving Himself as the sacrifice for the world. What marvelous mystery!
Christ quotes Psalm 22 here, which is a Psalm that predicted this would happen to God’s anointed, but though it begins in tragedy, it will end in triumph and Jesus knew that as well. By the way, may the Lord’s example be ours in suffering. May Scripture be close to our breath in the worst of situations and may we have faith to cry “My God, my God” again and again. Nevertheless, this was the most painful part of being made sin for us. He lost fellowship with God.
The bystanders then mockingly say, “This man is calling Elijah.” Why would Jesus be calling Elijah anyway? In the end of the Old Testament, there is a prophecy that God was going to send Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). We know this was fulfilled in John the Baptist, who was like Elijah (Matt. 11:13-14). So “the Jews believed that Elijah would be the partner of the returning Messiah to set up the Kingdom. Then when Messiah came, Elijah would come. And so they're mocking, ‘And you're the Messiah, you must be calling for Elijah.’” He’s calling for Elijah, His associate! He must be around since this guy says He’s the Messiah, but we don’t see him as He’s calling out to him! See how much men hate God? Mocking at the God who is gave them the mouth to speak.
Here is where Jesus cried out, “I thirst!” (John 19:28). Matthew doesn’t record the cry (as John does), but only the response to His request. A reed here is a stick of only about 18 inches, which indicates that the cross was not way up in the air as we tend to think, but probably just three or four feet above the ground. But see the irony here. The One who made gallons of wine for a wedding party, who had spoken of living water that would quench all thirst forever, dying with a swollen tongue and the sour smell of spilled vinegar on His beard.
But look down at v.51. Just as Jesus dies, the curtain rips into two, from top to bottom. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. It’s Passover. The Temple must be packed with hundreds of thousands of people. Imagine priests there covered in blood, like butchers, slaughtering one Passover lamb after another for each person who has come to celebrate. Some have said the priests would slaughter close to 250,000 animals during the Passover. Right behind the priests is a curtain, very huge, heavy and thick, made up of elaborately woven fabric that was sixty feet long and thirty wide.
Inside the curtain was called the Holy of Holies. This is where once a year, on Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go in and offer an animal for the sins of the people and the nation. The Holy of Holies represented God’s presence and no unholy person could go in there. It symbolized that God and man were alienated and separated. God was holy. Men were sinners. Even the high priest had to go through so many ceremonies of cleansing to make sure he makes it out of there alive. So as they are all into their sacrifices that afternoon, the whole curtain suddenly rips into two.
Notice, it is from the top, down. Why not bottom up? To show us that God is the one ending the separation from Him and mankind. Man would rip it from the bottom up. God Himself rips open the way to Himself. It would have been a huge shock for all the people to see the actual Holy of Holies! God ended the priesthood right there as Jesus the true High Priest offered Himself as the Passover Lamb for the sins of the world and bridged the barrier from man to God. God ended the sacrificial system there as Jesus was the Ultimate and final sacrifice. By the way, in AD 70, Romans would come into the Temple and destroy the whole thing. Jews haven’t offered sacrifices since. To this day, they actually still hope to do it, but right now there is a mosque on the Temple Mount!
But God’s commentary here is this: the access to the throne of God is now open! Hebrews 9 and 10 provide great commentary on this. But I love Heb. 4:16 where the author of Hebrews says, “Come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). Notice, not a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace! No need to stand in the outer courts in your guilt and shame. Just as you are, without one plea, like the hymnwriter says, but that thy blood was shed for me, O Lamb of God I come! The presence of God is guaranteed now. God made a way for you to come to Him all the time!
So beloved, what does this mean for us? This means one thing. Since God has forsaken His precious Son for our sins, He will never forsake those of us who have trusted in Christ for salvation! Praise God! You may feel forsaken at times. You may feel darkness all around you. You may feel like God has abandoned you, but the truth and promise of Scripture is that God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God’s presence is guaranteed! This why He can draw near to us when we draw near to Him (James 4:8). Why hang out in guilt and shame today? You have a new and living way in Christ to come by His blood.
Our God will never let us go, because He already let His Son go because of our sin. We deserve to be forsaken and abandoned due to our sin, but God cannot do it again. You are safe in His hands no matter what. Better still, you are not even just in His hands, you are His finger! This is why Jesus can say, “If you come to me, I will not cast you out.” Why? Because Jesus was cast out already for our sin! He will never forsake you, for God forsook His Son on our behalf. Not only that, as Pastor Tullian Tchividjian says, “The gospel is the good news that God treated Jesus the way I deserved and he daily treats me the way Jesus deserves.”
F.W. Krummacher says, “Though we may be abandoned by the world’s favor, the friendship of men, earthly prosperity, and the bodily strength, though we may even be bereft of the feeling of God’s nearness and the freshness of the inward life of faith; yet God Himself always continues near and favorably inclined to us in Christ. However strangely He may sometimes act toward us, into whatever furnace of affliction He may plunge us, however completely He may withdraw Himself from our consciousness, yet in every situation the blissful privilege belongs to us…to say to Him with bolder confidence, ‘You will not, cannot and dare not forsake me, because the merits of Your only begotten Son forever binds You to me.”
Wow! Jesus in my place, judged for my sin and forsaken of God, so I will be accepted in His presence. Thirdly,
III. Yielding His spirit: God’s love is demonstrated (v.50)
I want to quickly look at Matt. 27:50. Jesus again cries with a loud voice. Matthew leaves out what He said, but John tells us that it was “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Literally in the original, it is just one word, tetelestai, and it means, “It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!” Merchants would use this word to mean, “Your debt is paid in full!” Tell that to the accuser the next time he brings up your sins.
Jesus does not say, “I am finished,” but “It is finished.” I wish we really believed that Christ has done all the work. I struggle all the time trying to add my contribution to my salvation whether through my good works or prayers! But the work is done. What is left is for us to believe! Right after this, He would say to the Father in Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” The Father had turned His face away, but turns back now that redemption is done and the task is complete.
Notice He “yielded” up His spirit, that is, His human spirit. The Jews did not take His life. The Romans did not take His life. He voluntarily gave it up. This is exactly what He said: “No man can take my life from me. I lay it down myself” (John 10:18). Literally in the Greek, He dismisses His spirit as though saying, “Go, now.” He is in total control the entire time, even in His death. He is no victim!
John 3:16 tells us that God in loving us, gave us His Son. So here we see that God is saying, “I love you. Stop trying to work hard at proving you are lovable by your goodness. It is finished. I love you. I did it by my goodness despite your badness. More pleasing to me than your prayers, your quiet times, your attempts at worship, your good deeds is that you would believe that I love you.”
Listen to John Claypool: “…The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to His goodness and the question becomes not ‘What have I done?’ but ‘What can He do?’ release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.” So what is your focus on today? Your badness? Your goodness? Or His goodness? What you have done or didn’t do? Or what He has done and can do?
The cross tells us our sin is judged, God’s presence is guaranteed, God’s love is demonstrated and lastly and quickly:
IV. Earthquake/Resurrection: God’s Son will reign (vv. 51b-54)
I want to quickly go over the last couple of miracles. There is an earthquake. What is God saying here? I think He is saying this is a trailer of the main event. What main event? When you look at the Old Testament prophecies like in Isaiah 24:19 about earthquakes, it indicates that God will one day shake the earth and the heavens and usher in a kingdom that will not be shaken (Heb. 12:26-28). And we have been seeing a lot of earthquakes recently. Isn’t it crazy how frequent they are? Whether or not the end is near, just know in Scripture it should remind us that we are not to cling to this world too tightly and live for the wrong thing because God’s Kingdom is coming and God’s Son will reign as King in an unshakeable kingdom.
Not only will God’s Son reign, but all of God’s people will reign as well. Notice in the text, something unusual happens in the tombs. An earthquake can open the graves, but only God can raise the dead. These are Old Testament believers in their new glorified resurrection bodies. Their souls were in Heaven, but God brings them alive with their bodies and it seems like after Christ is raised, they appeared to people! So what happened to them? They probably then ascended back to Heaven when Christ ascended. Again, this is a trailer of the main event, when all believers in Christ will be raised with incorruptible bodies (1 Cor. 15). The cross is not a victory for death. It is a victory for life. Death has died and will die for all in Christ. And who is the first to come to Christ in this new and living way? It is a lone Gentile Roman centurion, with blood on his hands, who gets it as he exclaims, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
See all that God is saying in these events around the cross? Your sin is judged, paid in full, you have access to God freely, never to be forsaken by Him, you are loved beyond measure and have promises of a future that will be full of blessing and redemption! What is our response to these?
Two concluding applications here for us. First, how can we love sin? We must hate sin. Sin killed God. I was truly convicted by Spurgeon here:
“What an accursed thing is sin, which crucified the Lord Jesus! Do you laugh at it? Will you go and spend an evening to see a mimic performance of it? Do you roll sin under your tongue as a sweet morsel, and then come to God’s house, on the Lord’s-day morning, and think to worship him? Worship him! Worship him, with sin indulged in your breast! Worship him, with sin loved and pampered in your life! O sirs, if I had a dear brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I valued the knife which had been crimsoned with his blood? — if I made a friend of the murderer, and daily consorted with the assassin, who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart? Surely I, too, must be an accomplice in the crime! Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it? Oh, that there was an abyss as deep as Christ’s misery, that I might at once hurl this dagger of sin into its depths, whence it might never be brought to light again! Begone, O sin! Thou art banished from the heart where Jesus reigns! Begone, for thou hast crucified my Lord, and made him cry, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”
We have a great need for a Savior, we who love the sin, which killed Him. But at the same time, secondly, we have a great Savior for our sins. Dr. Richard Selzer, in his book Mortal Lessons shares this story of watching a woman who just had surgery on her face that left her disfigured and her husband who sees her right after the surgery:
“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, somewhat clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, had been severed. She will be this way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, the moment is a private one. Who are they, I ask myself? He and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at each other so generously, so lovingly. The young woman speaks. ''Will my mouth always be like this?' she asks. "Yes, I say, it will. It is because the nerve was cut." She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It’s kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God moment. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”
We are a disfigured people. We don’t deserve His love. But 2,000 years ago, God became man, bent down from Heaven, twisted Himself, leaned toward mankind and expressed His love for a very handicapped humanity. And even today, our disfigured as your soul feels, how twisted your heart may be, He twists Himself and goes out of His way to love you still. Will you sing with the hymnwriter, “Amazing love how can it be? That thou my God should die for me?”
Pritchard, Ray. “The Forsaken Christ,” http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1991-05-05-The-Forsaken-Christ/ accessed 7 April 2011.
Green, M. (2000). The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven (296). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press.
Quoted by Ortlund, Ray. From his blog entry, “He still dwells among sinners,” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/rayortlund/2011/03/30/he-still-dwells-among-sinners/ accessed 7 April 2011.
Macarthur, J. “A Closer Look at the Cross,” http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/80-48_A-Closer-Look-at-the-Cross accessed 8 April 2011.
Pritchard, Ray. Ibid.
As quoted in http://www.preachingtoday.com/search/?query=matthew 27:45%2 54&searcharea=illustrations&type=scripture&x=39&y=10&start=41 accessed 8 Aprll 2011.
As quoted by Yancey, Phillip (1995). The Jesus I Never Knew (201). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Macarthur, J. “God’s Commentary on the Passion of Christ,” http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/80-282 accessed 8 April 2011.
Yancey, P. Ibid.
Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 1: Matthew, Mark , Luke. (180). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
From a tweet on 9 April 2011 http://twitter.com/#!/PastorTullian
Krummacher, F.W (1947). The Suffering Savior (387), 1978 edition. Chicago: Moody Press. Language Updated.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Jn 19:28). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Claypool, J. As quoted in Manning, Brennan (2005 ed). The Ragamuffin Gospel (117-118). Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
Spurgeon, C. H. (1998). Vol. 36: Spurgeon's Sermons: Volume 36 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Spurgeon's Sermons. Albany, OR: Ages Software.
As quoted by Butler Missy. “The Kiss of the King,” http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/Devotions/Butler_kiss_king.aspx accessed 8 April 2011.