MATTHEW 27:45-56; 28:1-10
Michele L. Hardie writes: “My Sunday school of kindergarteners was studying the Creation story. After several weeks, we were ready to review.
What did God make the first day? I quizzed. The second day? They answered both questions correctly. And what happened on the third day? I asked.
One little child, face shining with enthusiasm, exclaimed, ‘He rose from the dead!’”
A minister stood before the window of an art store, and looked at the painting of Jesus on the cross. A little ragged, dirty boy came and stood by him. “Do you know who He is?” asked the minister. “That’s Jesus. Them’s is the soldiers standing around. That woman crying is His mother,” said the little boy. The minister walked away. The boy overtook him and said, Say, Mister, I wanted to tell you that Jesus rose again!” Then he smiled and ran away, happy to tell the good news!
I. THE CRY OF DESOLATION AND THE DEATH OF JESUS VV. 45-50
The coward Pilate for fear of losing his position as governor has allowed the religious leaders to intimidate him. He has succumbed to their threats and given up Jesus to be crucified. A kangaroo court has found Jesus guilty of death by crucifixion. As a symbol of his innocence, Pilate has washed his hands, but his own heart condemned him. While his hand was clean, his heart was dirty because he knew he had given up an innocent man to be crucified. So Jesus was crucified among robbers. Standing at the foot of the cross some of the mockers taunt, “He saved others let Him save Himself.” To add insult to injury the two robbers began to make mockery of Jesus.
Crucifixion in those days was the most excruciating form of death. It was also a degrading form of death that Caesar made a decree that no Roman citizen was to die by crucifixion. Death on the cross was horrific and humiliating to serve as deterrent to would-be hardened criminals. But Jesus has committed no crime. He is hanging on the cross because of your sin and mine. Verse 45 states, “Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.” The sixth hour means noon (thus 12 p.m.) and the ninth hour is three o’clock in the afternoon. There are several signs in this passage that reveal to you and me that the person who was being crucified was not an ordinary person. The first of these signs is the darkness. The centurion and his team of Roman soldiers have witnessed the crucifixion of criminals on many different occasions, but they have not witnessed any sudden change of the weather as they saw this day. The darkness that suddenly fell was a sign of judgment and tragedy. Nature was testifying to the gravity of Jesus’ death. The darkness that fell on that Friday afternoon was both physical and spiritual. It was physical because those who were there saw it. It was spiritual because the Light of the world was leaving the world. About three o’clock in the afternoon on that fateful Friday, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” Theologians call this The Cry of Desolation or the cry of Dereliction. Jesus has known the abandonment of His family, of His friends, and of His countrymen. But He has never known this kind of abandonment. He and His Father have always existed together as one, so eternally close that now, when fellowship between them is severed, the pain in the soul of the Son is like an amputation without anesthesia. That is the pain He feels as He cries out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Abandonment is the punishment for a criminal not the very Son of God. Abandonment is the suffering borne by the most evil. Abandonment that is for the vile—not for you, Jesus. Not You the King of kings, Not You, the Beginning and the End. Not You, the Ancient of Days. The Father abandoned Jesus because Jesus was carrying your sin, my sin, and the sin of the world on the cross. The Father turned His back on the Son because of your sin and mine. The Father turned His back on the Son so that He may turn His face toward us in mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The prophet Isaiah says, “He Himself bore the sins of many.” The physical agony that Jesus endured on the cross for you and me was horrible, but even worse was the period of spiritual separation from God. Jesus suffered this double death so that you and I would never have to experience eternal separation from God. God the Father abandoned God the Son on the cross so that He may receive us as sons and daughters. Can you see what Jesus has done for you and me? In this cry of desolation the horror of the world’s sin and the cost of our salvation are revealed. Jesus uttered the cry of abandonment and forsakenness so that no son or daughter should use those words of desolation.
Verse 47, the bystanders misinterpreted Jesus’ words and thought He was crying for Elijah. Because Elijah ascended into heaven without tasting death (2 Kings 2:11), they thought he would return again to rescue them from great trouble (Malachi 4:5). The offer of a drink is not a gesture of mercy but of mockery. They sought to prolong the life and agony of Jesus on the cross, while with false devotion the onlookers say they would wait for Elijah to come and rescue Him (v. 49).
Verse 50 records, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” This verse repeats that Jesus was both human and divine. His humanness is revealed as a reminder of the hideous agony He felt on the cross. That is why in your suffering you should not behave like Christ does not understand or care for you. He has endured more than what you are going through now. And He did this just for you and me. Another interesting thing is that even in His excruciating pain and agony on the cross, Jesus was still in control. Jesus was sovereign over the exact time of His death. It was at this moment when He was experiencing the abyss of His alienation from His Father and was been unjustly mocked by those He came to save and serve, that He chose to yield up His life “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). For three small words Jesus raises Himself from the nails one last time. He takes a deep breath, and then leaves these words as the legacy of His life: “It is finished.” Tetelestai. The cry is a cry of victory as the Son crosses the finish line. The race He came to earth to run is over. And He is just an exhausted stride away from falling into His Father’s arms. His head eases back against the wood. His eyes close. He feels the pain leaving Him. He sees His Father’s outstretched arms. He calls to Him: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” And then He died. He died as He lived, in the affectionate embrace of His Father. His last act, an act of surrender, and His last words, a prayer.
II. THE CRITICAL AND IMMEDIATE IMPACT OF JESUS’ DEATH VV. 51-56
The second sign that follows the crucifixion of Jesus is the tearing of the veil from top to bottom in the temple. There were two temple curtains, one dividing the Holy of Holies and the other separating the Holy place from the court. The tearing of the veil shows that this was not the work of any human. If it were the work of a human the veil would be torn from bottom to the top. It was the work of God that tore the veil from the top to the bottom. There are two spiritual implications in the tearing of the veil in the temple. The first is that Jesus’ death has given access to every person to the Holy of Holies. In other words, you and I have access to God through Jesus Christ. We do not have to go through any mediator. Jesus Himself is the new temple, the meeting place of God and man. That is why in John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me.” The second implication is that of judgment. The rent veil served as a sign of the temple’s impending destruction. In A.D. 70 Roman army razed the Temple of Jerusalem down. Since then the temple has not been built again.
The third sign that accompanied the death of Jesus is the sudden earthquake. Jesus also says in Matthew 24 that earthquakes will also be part of the signs of His second coming. In our present passage the earthquake is a symbol of judgment and theophanic glory. By theophanic glory I mean that the sudden earthquake was showing that Jesus, the God Man was exiting this world. The fourth and final sign was the opening of tombs. However, the physical appearances of the dead took place during the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The opening of the tombs and the raising of the dead were signs to show that in fact Jesus is the resurrection and the Life, and those who believe in Him even though they die yet they will live again. The word “saints” means “those who have been set apart,” the sanctified ones. It is interesting to note that not every tomb of those who have died opened, but many bodies of the saints. This is also to confirm that when Jesus is returning in His glory, those who lived for Him and died for Him will be raised to eternal life. Have you given your life to Jesus Christ who died for you on the cross? One important truth that should not escape your attention is that Jesus’ sacrificial death blots out sin, defeats the powers of evil and death, and opens up access to God.
Jesus’ death did not go unnoticed. Everyone who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ death at the cross knew that something significant had happened, and this includes the centurion. The centurion is intrigued by how Jesus seems to gather His pain and hold it, keeping it to Himself. Why? He wonders. Why doesn’t He suffer like the others, cursing, screaming, and lashing out? There was something in Jesus’ eyes that the soldier had to see. But after only a few steps he fell. He stood and fell again. The ground was shaking because of the earthquake. The centurion tries once more to walk and was able to take a few steps and then fell at the foot of the cross. Soldiers are thrown staggering to the ground, people running for their lives, praying, screaming, and falling down.
The centurion looked at the face of this one near death. The King looked down at the crusty old centurion. Jesus’ hands were fastened—they couldn’t reach out. His feet were nailed to timber; they couldn’t walk toward him. His head was heavy with pain; He could scarcely move it. But His eyes were afire. They were unquenchable. They were the eyes of God. Perhaps that is what made the centurion say what he said. He saw the eyes of God. He saw the same eyes that the Samaritan woman saw at the well of Jacob. He saw the same eyes that the woman who was caught in adultery saw. They were the eyes that didn’t close upon seeing human futility, eyes that didn’t turn away at human failure, and didn’t wince upon witnessing man’s death. The centurion’s convictions began to flow together like rivers. “This was no carpenter,” he spoke under his breath. “This was no peasant. This was no normal man.” He stood and looked around at the rocks that have fallen and the sky that had blackened. He turned and stared at the soldiers as they stare at Jesus with frozen faces. He turned and watched as the eyes of Jesus lifted and looked toward home. He listened as the patched lips parted and the swollen tongue spoke for the last time. In His three short years as a preacher Jesus spoke from many pulpits. He spoke from a synagogue and from the side of a mountain. He spoke from the temple and the dinner table of a tax collector, from the hull of a boat and from the home of a leper. The cross would be Jesus’ last pulpit, and the crucifixion His last sermon. His final words of homecoming were “Father into your hands I entrust My spirit.”
Had the centurion not said it, the soldiers would have. Had the centurion not said it the rocks would have—as would have the angels, the stars, even the demons. But the centurion did say it. It fell to a nameless foreigner to state what they all knew. “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Six hours on one Friday. What do these six hours signify? They claim to be the door in time through which eternity entered human’s darkest caverns. For your life that is blackened with failure, that Friday means forgiveness. For your heart that is scarred with futility, that Friday means purpose. And for the soul looking into the tunnel of death, that Friday means deliverance. Six hours one Friday what do you do with those six hours on that Friday?
Why are we afraid of death? Why do we mention death with fear, reluctance, and trepidation? Death is the bully on the block of life. He catches you in the alley. He taunts you in the playground. He badgers you on the way home: “You, too, will die someday.” You see death as he escorts the procession of hearse-led cars. He is in the waiting room as you walk out of the double doors of the intensive care unit. He will be watching your expression as you slow your car past the crunched metal and the blanketed bodies on the highway. Death whispers to you, “Your time is coming.” Oh, we try to prove him wrong. We jog. We diet. We pump iron. We play golf. We try to escape death, knowing all along that we will only, at best, postpone it. But he reminds us that everyone has a number; and the number will be called. He will make your stomach tighten. He will leave you wide-eyed and flat-footed. He will fence you in with fear. He will steal the joy of your youth and the peace of your final years. And if he achieves what he sets out to do, he will make you so afraid of dying that you never learn to live. That is why you should never face death alone. The bully is too big for you to fight by yourself. That is why you need a big brother, and the big brother is Jesus Christ. On the Friday when Jesus was suspended on the cross between heaven and earth Satan and his demons were jubilating, but their jubilation would be short-lived. On that fateful Friday after the burial Satan went and knocked the door of death and inquired, “death do you still have Jesus?” Death said, “yes I have Him right here with me.” Satan went back and told the demons open the Champaign and let’s celebrate, let’s have a toast. On Saturday Satan knocked the door of death and asked, “death do you still have Jesus with you?” Death replied, “yes I have Him with me.” Satan went back to his demons let’s have a party, but the party won’t be long. On Sunday early in the morning Satan visited death again. He asked Mr. death, Mr. death do you still have Jesus? This time there was a long pause. Death said to Satan I don’t have Jesus. He has risen, and not only that He has taken my key with Him. Then, Satan said to death we are doomed. He signaled to all the demons and there was great weeping and gnashing of teeth.
III. THE COMPELLING MESSAGE OF THE RESURRECTION 28:1-10
On the same Sunday morning the women who didn’t have time to prepare the body of Jesus for burial went to the tomb to finish their job, but to their amazement they saw an angel who told them that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. The stone has been rolled out and the tomb is empty. The stone was rolled not to let Jesus out, but to let the women and the disciples in. Jesus was already gone before the angel removed the stone from the entrance of the tomb. As the women were on their way home wondering, Jesus appeared to them and they were filled with joy. The women were the first witnesses of the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. He told them that they could not keep this good news to themselves, but to go and tell the disciples to meet Him at Galilee. He has risen. He has risen today. Jesus Christ is risen today, and because of His resurrection why are you so afraid of death. You are afraid of death because you have not received Him as your Lord and Savior. You don’t want to hear the name of death because you have not settled the question of your eternal destiny. Because Jesus lives today I can face tomorrow. Not only has Jesus risen today but He is also coming again. Let me ask you a question: “If Jesus were to come for His church today, would you be one of them, or would you be left behind?” Settle this question today, because today is the day of salvation. He is risen indeed. (I received insightful help from Max Lucado, Six Hours on One Friday). Happy Easter