March 25, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Jesus was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane and brought before the Sanhedrin for trial, where He was falsely condemned for blasphemy.
Then, because the Jews were occupied by Rome and could not carry out capital punishment, they appealed to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to have Jesus crucified, accusing Him of plotting to overthrow Caesar.
Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, but the crowd threatened to accuse Pilate of treason before Caesar. So Pilate gave the order, and Jesus was crucified.
We may remember that crucifixion is a toruous death in which the person being crucified usally dies of suffocation after several days. The crucified is nailed and/or tied to the cross by his wrists and ankles, and there is a small bar under his feet from which the crucified could push up. As the crucified hangs, his lungs deflate, so he has to push up on his feet to get air, and when all strength is lost to push up, he suffocates. This form of execution is still practiced.
Jesus hanged on the cross for several hours by the time we arrive at our text. During the hours He hanged, Jesus spoke a number of times, and a number of startling events occurred:
First, there was sudden and total darkness for three hours.
"Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour."
This was not merely an eclipse or a storm -- Matthew would have been well aware of those types of events, but he identified this as something different: at noon, there was a sudden and total darkness -- and it lasted for three hours.
What was it?
Humans had just committed the greatest sin in putting God the Son to death. They had utterly defied God and rejected the Savior He sent.
Jesus is the Light Who came into the darkness -- but the people preferred the darkness and killed Him.
So, we might look at this as God saying, "You want darkness? Then have darkness. Thick, consuming, heavy darkness."
We might look at this as the sun being so repulsed by what it saw, that it stopped showing forth its light for a time.
Whatever the specifics, the darkeness was a thick darkness -- a darkness unlike any darkness we have experienced. A darkness -- dare we say? Of biblical proportion.
Second, God the Father forsook Jesus.
"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?' And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, 'This man is calling Elijah.' 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. But the others said, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.' And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit."
In a moment that we cannot understand, Jesus was forsaken by the Father. Somehow, God the Father Who experienced perfect communion with God the Son from all of eternity and never ceased to be God -- the One God, experienced being cut off from the Son. Jesus, while remaining God and human, experienced abandonment by the Father.
And this is such a difficult thing to understand or even put accurately into words, because none of us have ever experienced being God Incanate, living a sinless and holy life, and being crucified for the sins of all of the people who would ever believe -- that there is a tendency to say it never really happened.
But it did happen. It had to happen. In order for Jesus to be our Savior, He had to experience the eternal Wrath of God against every believing sinner for their sin. This most horrific moment on the cross is the Father forsaking Jesus.
Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?" (Psalm 22:1, ESV).
In Psalm 22, David wrties prophetically about the crucifixion -- describing, not just his own condition at the time, but what would happen to Jesus -- that He would be foresaken, that He would be mocked, that His body would be wracked and pierced, but His bones would not be broken, that His clothes would be gambled over -- and woven throughout the Psalm, David declares that God is the holy and praiseworthy God, nevertheless, and that God will bring justice in the end.
Isn't that why we call this day "Good" Friday? Despite all the horrors that happened in history to our God and Savior, they have made our God all the more worthy of glory and honor and praise to us -- the One we look to and ascribed all holiness and goodness and justice to.
And as in the Psalm, the crowd around Jesus mocked Him:
"Hear that? He's calling out to Elijah! Wouldn't it be something to see Elijah appear and free Him from the cross? Call our again! Hahaha."
And Jesus cried out one more time and breathed His last.
But the day was far from over.
Third, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two.
"And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."
The curtain that is being referred to is the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. It was the curtain that separated the Presence of God from the people. It tearing open the curtain the people now stood directly before the Presence of God.
And that is what Jesus has done for us, right? We no long live in fear but come into the throne room of God boldly, calling Him, "Abba, Father." We have entered into a new relationship with God through Jesus and the work He accomplished.
Let us notice that the curtain that spearated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was not a flimsy lace curtain -- it was weighty. And let us also notice that the curtain was torn from the top of the Temple to the floor -- as though God was tearing His clothes in sorrow as His beloved Son died.
Fourth, the earth reacted violently to Jesus' death on the cross.
"And the earth shook, and the rocks were split."
As Jesus died, the earth shook -- there was at least an earthquake if not a far greater shaking of the planet, and rocks split apart -- the earth was shaken to the core at the horror of what we had done.
While some people mocked Jesus, and some people hid, and some people cried, the Creation reacted appropriately. The Creation is always in total obedience to God -- the creatures and the plants and the inanimate objects all do what they are supposed to do and they react as God formed them to react.
We may remember that when Isaiah saw the vision of God in the Temple, the Temple had the good sense to tremble before God.
It's only we who think we know better than God. It's only we who challenge God and ask Him, "What have You done?" When we have no authority to do so.
How far away have we turned in cosmic rebellion to crucify God Incarnate for the crime of blasphemy -- claiming to be God? Which He is!
We saw last Sunday that the rocks had the good sense to recognize Jesus for who He is, and if the Jews got the crowd to be quiet, the rocks themselves would start crying out and praising Jesus: "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!"
Fifth, many dead believers were raised from the dead.
"The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many."
What must this have been like?
What did they say?
This is one of those texts I wish there was more recorded, but God in His Providence did not see fit to tells us more than this:
When Jesus died, the graves of many believers opened and they rose from the dead.
And when Jesus rose from the dead that Sunday morning, all of those believers who had been raised from the dead left their tombs and went into Jerusalem. Can we imagine all those we know who have died in Christ rising from the dead and joining us here in worship -- in their bodies -- on Easter?
There is a day coming, because Jesus did physically rise from His grave, when all we who have believed in Him will be physically raised from our graves and brought and made holy and sinless and perfect in our physical bodies. No more to suffer and die, but to ever live and praise the First-born from the dead.
But not on Friday.
They waited until Sunday.
And we wait until our God and Savior returns for us on that final day.
Sixth, some who saw these things believed.
"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 of God!'”
When the darkness fell suddenly for three hours, when Jesus was forsaken, when the curtain was torn, when the earth shook, and the dead were raised, some who we at the cross believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
And people will continue to respond to the call to believe and repent of their sins until the last day. God is patiently waiting while we proclaim the Gospel until the last one who will believe has come to faith, and then He will return.
We are not called to fancy gimmicks, but to tell the truth of the history of what happened -- just as those who saw what happened at the foot of the cross saw and believed.
We are told who of Jesus' disciples were there: John and many women.
"There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee."
About three hours later -- about six o'clock -- as the sun began to set and the Sabbath was coming upon the land, the followers of Jesus asked if they might have His dead body to bury, and it was granted to them to take Him. As we read:
"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 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. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb."
Jesus' body was taken and the initial embalming preparations were made, and He was laid in the tomb belonging to Jospeh of Arimathea. A great stone was rolled in front of the tomb, as was the custom, and, as we read later in the Gospel, the cheif priests asked that Pilate seal the tomb so it would be a crime against Rome to open it, and they asked for a guard of soldiers to keep the tomb safe until after the day that Jesus prophesied He would rise from the dead, and Pilate consented.
Then they all went home and took part in the normal Sabbath worship.
What else could they do?
Let us pray:
Almighty God, when the greatest trials are upon us and we don't know how we will survive, help us to remember and to think on these things that occured between noon and three that Good Friday. Comfort us with Psalm 22 in knowing that You are forever and always the Holy God, worthy of worship, the God Who never lies and keeps all of His promises. Send the Holy Spirit to assure us and strengthen us as we call the world to You. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.