Matthew 27:45-66 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Death of Jesus
45 Now from the sixth hour[a] there was darkness over all the land[b] until the ninth hour.[c] 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son[d] of God!”
55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Jesus Is Buried
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The Guard at the Tomb
62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[e] of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
We will need to do a quick recap of last week if we are going to tackle what Matthew is pointing at this week. We saw displayed in Matthew’s gospel the “wonderful exchange” as Matin Luther (the 16th Century Reformer put it). Where as 2 Cor 5:21 says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Tonight, we will look at in detail what that means; what did the cross achieve? In other words, What is the result (practically) of Jesus taking our sins and giving us His righteousness?
Matthew points this out in three beautifully interwoven realities; the cry of Christ, the situation of the torn veil in the temple and then the issue of the coverup of the Pharisees.
So let’s look at the first reality; what was happening on the cross, where Jesus cried out. What is the significance of his cry, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani.” Or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
This is our first point this evening;
He received our hell
There has been much scholarly debate about this cry. And I guess there should be. It exposes a mystery of the Christian religion; how does God forsake himself? Christianity believes in a trinitarian godhead. In other words, three persons in one God. This is a mystery that we simply do not have the time or scope to cover in any depth tonight; in fact you could spend several semester at a theological collage unpacking the depths and wonders of this idea.
Now, orthodoxy, or the belief that the church has constantly held about this mysterious teaching is that God is one in being (essence) yet three in persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) this has been the confession of the church since 325AD at the Nicaean council.
There are dangers and heresies on every side. On the one side (Modalism or Monarchianism) we have an overemphasis of the unity of God (or the oneness of God) that God is only one, and expresses Himself in three modes. This is just false and is not supported by Scripture.
On the other side we have tri-theism which overemphasises the separateness of God, essentially, making it that we worship three God. This is also not supported by Scripture and is patently false.
To put it simply Jesus is not the Father, the Father is not the Son the Son is not the Spirit and the Spirit is not the Father, etc. Yet all three are same God, all three are true God.
So, we come to this stark mystery of the cry on the cross? Jesus cries out of his forsakenness, He experienced alienation; alienation from the Father.
The significance of this is that He is a being who is eternally one with Himself.
Now, we experience alienation on many levels because of sin. But the ultimate source is from our alienation from God Himself. We were made to be with Him to experience deep relationship with him. A lot of our angst and discomfort in this world is due to this reality. And displayed before us tonight in the Gospel of Matthew is the King of Creation (the Son) for our sake, experiencing that forsakenness.
The only way to describe it is hell! Hell is separation from God. Because God is the source of all things, when we are abandoned by Him we are giving over to that which should not be, rather than love, we are given over to loathing, we receive aloneness rather than fellowship, death rather than life, etc.
Jesus was given over to this hell, but it was because of our action, it was our rebellion and sin that caused this for him. And we see all of creation reacting because of this. The sky turns dark, graves give up their dead. It is as if the ground of creation is being shaken to its core. And it was. The Son was being forsaken by the Father.
The result of all this, however, is…
We received His acceptance
The second thing we see as a result of Christ’s death is in the temple. In verse 51 we read, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” What is the significance of this? Why does Matthew put this into the gospel?
Well, to understand this we need to understand the Jewish Temple. The Temple (originally build by King Solomon) stood as a place where God could meet with His people. Due to the nature of God (being holy) people couldn’t just get access to God. In fact the Temple stood as a reality of the limitation that people had in getting to God. There were multiple level’s of access to the Temple. On the outer rim you would have the Gentile court. This was where you were allowed if you believed in God but were not a Jew by blood. If you stepped over into the inner courts you were seized and arrested. This was because you did not have access.
The next court was the court of woman, this was for those who were of Jewish blood, but were not male. Again if you stepped further into the Temple were seized and arrested. Beyond this in the centre of the Temple was the Jewish court, this was reserved purely for Jewish men. Even deeper in was the court of the priests; now you were limited again, you had to be a Jew, you had to be now a priest, beyond this, there existed the temple itself where only a select group of elite priests could go, and beyond that was the Holy of holies. Which was a place where only the head priest could go once a year on the Day of Atonement.
It was here that the presence of God dwelled, It was here that if you went unworthily the holiness of God would consume you. It was here that the temple curtain was that Matthew is describing. Now this was not like a bedroom curtain It was a think curtain designed to completely obscure the view of the Holy of holies from anyone.
It is this curtain that was ripped in two from top to bottom. The curtain was ripped from top to bottom to show that it was God who was doing it. and it was ripped to show that the separation that had existed between God and people was now torn. What was the reason for this? The death of God.
Jesus received our alienation so that we would receive his welcome. In Christ all are now welcome into the unapproachable holiness of God.
And Matthew makes sure we understand this. The first person to respond to all this. In other words, in Matthew’s accounts the first person to step into the Holy of Holies (the presence of God) is a Roman centurion (a gentile); the most excluded of all the courts, next it is the woman, we read of how Mary, Mary and Mother of the sons of Zebedee are all there.
What it Matthew trying to show us here is that the access to God, which had been so limited and so exclusive – in Christ – is now open to all. As Paul writes later in Galatians; “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ all have the same access the Son deserves because he received the alienation that we deserved.
But we see something else being described in this passage.
The self-righteous trap
Matthew contrasts this coming in of the Gentiles and woman with the Pharisees who long to hold Jesus back. In the last Part of what we read tonight we see this desire of the Pharisees to lock the grave and make sure that Jesus stays put.
We are forced to asked the question why are gentiles and women (those historically excluded) are embracing what Pharisees and religious leaders are not?
Paul in Romans 9:30ff tells us clearly why;
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.
The gospel is a contrast between two worlds, two truths, two types of people. On the one hand you have those who think they can attain righteousness by what they do, and those that know they can’t and so by faith in Christ receive His righteousness.
The only thing that is keeping you from God is your desire to build your own righteousness. You want control of what makes you right in the world. Some people do this through religion. If I follow all the rules and obey all the laws, then I am right with the world. The problem is that you never truly follow all the rules and obey all the laws.
You have people who say I am going to do what I want I don’t need religion, by they are still following the law of a self-built righteousness, because they are still trying to earn their “right-ness” with the world through what they can achieve or who they know or what they wear or something else.
Everyone, every religion, every hope in this world is built on doing something, on achieving something. And we all fall into this trap and wonder why we feel hopeless.
The gospel exists as the only alternative, it is a righteousness by faith, not by works. It is a hope that is given to you, not earned. It is love that is received and not bargained for. All we have to do it receive it by faith.
Access to God has been achieved for us by Christ, the curtain is ripped the Holy of Holies is now open, we have to step in through the door of faith.
God, in Christ, is for us not against us!