************ Sermon on Matthew 27:45-53 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 30, 2018
"God's Response to the Crucifixion"
There were many participants in the events of Good Friday: Judas, Peter, the soldiers, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, Simon, the Centurion, Mary, John, Joseph, Nicodemus, the women. To this list we need to add God. Because our Bible reading tells us six things, six tearings, done by God on Good Friday.
I Tearing Apart Space and Time
A God's first tearing: He tore apart the fabric of space and time.
(Mt 27:45) From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.Realize this was a supernatural darkness, a darkness that defied the rules of nature, a darkness that contradicted the natural laws God put into place for His creation. Matthew tells us the darkness was from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. From noon until three in the afternoon. In the middle of the day when the sun is supposed to be shining. And yet it was dark. By the command of God. Upsetting the laws of nature. Tearing apart the very fabric of space and time.
Some have tried to explain away the darkness as an eclipse. But that is simply impossible because it was the Passover and the Passover is always celebrated when the sun and moon are on opposite sides of our planet. Let there be no doubt about it: this was supernatural darkness; God was tearing apart the very fabric of space and time.
The birth of Jesus is associated with light. We think of the glory of the angel choir announcing His birth and singing praises to God (Lk 2). The prophet Isaiah said His coming would be a light to the Gentiles (Is 42:6). In one of His great I AM statements Jesus identified Himself as the light of the world (Jn 8). But in His death there is a supernatural darkness.
Our Bible translation says "land." "Darkness came over all the land." The word translated as "land" can mean earth. We don't know where there was darkness: whether it was just Jerusalem and area, or the whole land of Israel, or even the half of our planet which should be under the light of the sun. Our God, of course, can do any of these. For instance, in the ninth plague God sent darkness upon Egypt but not upon Goshen where the children of Israel lived (Ex 10). In the days of Joshua, God made the sun stand still (Josh 10). And to assure Hezekiah, God made time go backwards ten degrees (2 Ki 20). So God is more than able to send darkness just upon Jerusalem or upon all of this planet.
B The darkness is God's action in response to the crucifixion of His Son. So what does it mean? What is God saying? Throughout the Bible, darkness is a sign of judgment, divine judgment. Don't forget, darkness was one of the plagues upon Egypt, God's judgment to make Pharaoh repent (Ex 10). Isaiah has a lot to say about darkness. He predicts a coming judgment upon Israel:
(Isa 5:30) ... And if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds.Quoting from Isaiah, Jesus speaks of a time when
(Mt 24:29) the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.Peter can speak of the "blackest darkness" that is reserved for false teachers (2 Pet 2:17). And Jude says the same thing awaits the angels who rebelled against God (Jude 1:6).
In our Bible reading, darkness is God's first action. God tore apart space and time.
II Tearing Apart God
A God's second tearing: He tore Himself apart. Listen to this described in verse 46:
(Mt 27:46) 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?"
Every Jew standing by the cross recognized these words of Christ. They come from Psalm 22. They read these words. They sang these words. They said these words. They memorized these words. So they understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying that the Father forsook the Son. Jesus was saying the Son was separated from the Father.
How is this even possible? The Father is God. The Son is God. Jesus can say, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). So how can God tear Himself away from Himself? Yet that is what happened on Good Friday. God tore Himself apart that awful day.
B Why? Why would God tear apart Himself? What would cause God to abandon God? What caused the Father to forsake the Son?
Let me ask another question: What is it that God cannot stand? What is that God cannot look upon? What is that God cannot tolerate? What is that cannot be in the presence of God? You all know. The answer is sin. God cannot stand and tolerate sin. God does not allow sin in His presence.
(Hab 1:13) Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.
What was put upon Jesus? Not only on the cross but also earlier. What did Jesus take upon Himself?
(2 Cor 5:21) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us ...Did you hear that? Upon the cross Jesus took on our sin. Our guilt. Our shame. He became sin for us.
Jesus became sin. So God the Father could not bear to look upon Him. So God the Father tore Himself away from God the Son. For three hours. I can't begin to explain this. All I can do is proclaim this.
C Jesus became sin. He was forsaken by God. And yet, and yet, His desire was God. He wanted intimate communion and fellowship with the Father. That's why He cried out about being forsaken. He wanted the Father. He loved the Father. He missed the Father.
And the people mocked Him for this. When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah" (Mt 27:47). Now, they knew he wasn't calling for Elijah. Remember, these were Jews. Jews who knew the Old Testament Scriptures, Jews who knew and recited and memorized Psalm 22. The three hours of darkness should have left them thinking about judgment. But their minds were darkened. So they ignored the darkness and they mocked the Lord as He was forsaken by the Father.
III Tearing Apart Life
A God's third tearing: Jesus tore life itself apart. Look at verse 50:
(Mt 27:50) And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice. Again. He cried out in a loud voice when He was forsaken. Now, as He gave up His spirit, He cried out again with a loud voice. This tells us something. This tells us Jesus still had strength. He still had physical strength. He still had enough strength to yell. He is not at the point of fading away. His life is not yet at the point of being over. He has not yet reached utter exhaustion. He is still able to yell. Even at the moment of death He is able to yell.
What did He yell? Luke's gospel tells us He yelled, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
B He yelled. And then He gave up His spirit even though He had the strength to keep on living if that is what He wanted.
Jesus "gave up his spirit." His soul. That is, He died. At a time and place of His choosing. His life was not taken from Him; rather, the emphasis here is that it was given up by Him. He gave His life over, He handed it over, He willed His soul or spirit to leave His body.
On Easter Sunday we see that Jesus has the power to take His life back out of the grave. On Good Friday we see that Jesus also has the power to put His life in the grave. He doesn't need a gun or a rope or pills or poison to do this. He does his by His own power, by His own will. He is able to do this because His is the power over death and Hades.
When Jesus cried out again in a loud voice He gave up His life. He tore life apart in doing this.
IV Tearing Apart the Temple
A God's fourth tearing: God tore apart the Temple by tearing apart the curtain of the Temple. Listen to verse 51:
(Mt 27:51) At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
In mind here is the set of double curtains that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. It barred all but the High Priest from the presence of God. And even he was only allowed into the presence of God once a year on the Day of Atonement.
This curtain was not some small, lacy, frilly thing. No, it was big and heavy, measuring thirty feet wide and sixty feet high, predominantly blue, very ornate with all kinds of imagery. Josephus reported that the veil was 4 inches thick, was replaced every year, and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart. A curtain like this doesn't just simply tear in two.
Amazingly, shockingly, this massive curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. From top to bottom. If it was even possible for man to tear the curtain, it would have been from bottom to top. But this big, massive curtain was torn from top to bottom. Telling us what? Telling us it was torn by the finger of God Himself. The moment Jesus died by giving up His spirit, the finger of God tore the curtain.
B More was torn here than just the curtain. Look at it this way. Do you know what the closed curtain said? It said NO ADMITTANCE. It said no one is allowed into the very presence of God -- except for the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Do you know what the torn curtain said? ADMITTANCE TO ALL WHO BELIEVE IN JESUS. Just like that, no more need for the Jewish high priest to represent the people before God. No more need for the Day of Atonement. No more need for the sin offerings. No more need for priests. No more need for the Temple. No more need for all the rules and regulations of the Jewish religion.
God tore apart the curtain and with it He tore apart the Jewish religion.
V Tearing Apart the Earth
God's fifth tearing: the tearing of the earth. I don't want to say too much here so I have time to say more about the sixth action. But what does verse 51 say about the tearing of the earth? "The earth shook and the rocks split." We are talking about an earthquake. Not the gentle little rumble of the old TV advertisement in which an earthquake massages the happy cows of California. We are talking about something big and violent. The earth itself was shaken and rocks were torn apart.
The psalms, the prophets, the writings, the epistles, and the Revelation all tell us that someday God is going to shake the heavens and the earth. This shaking is a sign of judgment and renewal.
What does this have to do with what happened at the cross? When God shook and tore apart the earth at the death of Christ, He was giving the world a taste of what will happen when Christ comes again.
VI Tearing Apart the Grave
A This brings us to God's sixth tearing: the tearing apart of the grave. Listen to how our Bible reading ends:
(Mt 27:52-53) The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (53) They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Obviously, the graves broke open because of the earthquake. But the earthquake could not have caused bodies to be raised to life.
This was a resurrection. A real resurrection. A big bunch of resurrections. What came out of the tombs were not spirits but bodies, real bodies, actual physical bodies. What bodies? Whose bodies? Not bodies of just anyone. Rather, Scripture makes clear that it was only certain, specific bodies. The Spirit was discriminating and choosing and picking. The Spirit was raising saints, holy people. We aren't told their names. But I am guessing it was a number of the saints we read about in Hebrews 11 -- you know, the Old Testament heroes of faith. When Jesus died, their spirits came down from heaven and were joined with glorified bodies that came out of the graves.
B And then what happened? "After Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." After Easter. Not before. Why not? Because Jesus is the firstfruits. Because as the firstfruits Jesus has to be the first to appear to His followers.
"After Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." I let my mind think and wonder and wander about this. These risen saints needed someplace to eat and sleep. So picture this: "Honey, I was at the marketplace and you won't believe who I ran into today. I invited them for dinner tonight." And so at their table and in their house was Elijah or Moses or Daniel or David or Hezekiah or Isaiah or Jeremiah or Gideon or Rahab or Abraham or Joshua or you decide ... And what do you think they said and did? They bore witness to Jesus and His resurrection. Jesus is alive, they would say, and we are living proof because He is the firstfruits.
At the cross of Jesus, God tore apart the grave. Do you hear what God is saying? God is saying death is not the end of His children. God is saying death never has the last word. God is saying there is life after death and there is resurrection after the grave.
On this Friday we call Good, we see six actions of God on Good Friday. We see the tearing:
-of space and time
-of God Himself
-of the Temple
-of the earth
-of the grave
In all of this we see the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God for sinners like you and me.
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