From Rejection To Reception
Scripture: Matthew 27:45–56
From Rejection To ReceptionMatthew 27:45-56
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith
For the past two weeks we have taken a detailed and graphic look at the crucifixion. This morning we ask the question, why did Jesus Christ have to die? Was it because He was unable to out maneuver those who captured Him? Was it to show us an example of how we are to love our friends even unto death? Was it a symbol of courage and need to take our convictions to the grave? Was it to model the desire to sacrifice to God? All of these and many more answers have been suggested throughout the corridors of time. The cross is a central image of Christianity. We must interpret the purpose for its existence. This morning's text will provide for us the biblical answer as to the importance of the cross and the reason for the Savior's death.
1. A FORSAKEN SON
I begin with "A Forsaken Son," our first point.
At this point Jesus was denied, betrayed, beaten, flogged, abandoned, tempted, ridiculed and crucified. And just when you think the worst is past, we now learn that it has only begun. Verse 45 says, "Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour." Jesus had already suffered on the cross for three hours and now from noon until 3:00 the land is engulfed in a cosmic blackness (see Am. 8:9-10).
So what's so significant about darkness? Think about it. What does darkness in the Bible represent? We start with an easy one. Did you see the movie, "The Ten Commandments?" They did a great job capturing in that movie the final plague - the eerie, dooming darkness of God's judgment. Exodus 10:21 described it as "a darkness which may be felt." Another example, when we come to Christ, it is said we live in the light, yet until that point we remain in the darkness (Jn. 8:12; 12:35) because we have rejected our only hope of salvation. "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19). One more, of all the descriptions of hell, the most common one used in Matthew is a place of "outer darkness" (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Darkness in the Bible represents judgment.
Heavy darkness engulfed the land for three hours at high noon! Unmistakable judgment was occurring. So who was God judging? Jesus who lived the sinless life or those who were in the process of unjustly mocking and murdering Him?
Let's go to the context and especially the words of Jesus Christ for the answer. The very next verse, "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Mt. 27:26; cf. Psm. 22). No doubt the people were judged for their actions, but the greatest judgment that occurred at Calvary that afternoon fell upon Jesus Christ.
Why would the Father judge and forsake the Son? Didn't His life testify to absolute obedience to the Father? Didn't Jesus say, "For I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (Jn. 8:29)? So while the whole world was mocking Jesus during His time of suffering you would expect vindication, but rather, from the Father Jesus only receives additional rejection. So after enjoying perfect fellowship with the Father throughout eternity, why did God the Father forsake God the Son during His time on the cross?
We consider the melodic theme that runs through the Bible. Old Testament animals sacrificed so sin could be forgiven (Lev. 17:11). Prophecies that the Messiah would bear our griefs and be "pierced through for our transgressions" and be "smitten of God and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4-5). The first acknowledgement of Jesus by the Baptist when we said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn. 1:29). Our Lord's own understanding that His primary mission was to "[go] up to Jerusalem and…be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, [to be condemned] to death, and [handed] over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify" (Mt. 20:18-19). The writings from the apostles which declare that Jesus "[became] a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13) and "[became] sin on our behalf" (2 Cor. 5:21) and "bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1 Pet. 2:24) and "died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3).
Let's get this straight. I don't want anyone leaving this sanctuary without understanding the reason for which Jesus went to the cross: God is holy and according to His holy standard each of us has fallen short (Rom. 3:23). The Bible teaches that the wages of our sins is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). There is nothing we can do to get rid of our sins. Religion, morality, good works all are insufficient. Yet God in His love and mercy sent Jesus Christ to the cross. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity became man, lived the perfect life and died as our substitute. Our sin was placed upon Him, He became legally guilty of all our sins and He received the penalty in our place. 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." And we receive this wonderful pardon simply through faith. Can John 3:16 say it any clearer? "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
So what I am saying is this, if you have given your life to Christ, God's judgment was spent on the Son. Jesus Christ suffered the hell you deserve. (Isn't hell darkness and loneliness and abandonment by God? Isn't that what Jesus experienced on the cross?) The Son was forsaken so that you will be embraced. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, every one of your sins has received its judgment. Justice accomplished. Innocence declared. You eternally stand before God pardoned and forgiven and accepted.
Yea, once Immanuel's orphaned cry His universe hath shaken.
It went up single, echoless, "My God, I am forsaken!"
It went up from the Holy's lips amid His lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation.
All human illustrations fall short, but here's one to consider. Let's say you were caught speeding and needed to pay $100 or face jail time. As you stand in the courtroom before the judge you admit your inability to pay the fine. But the judge has mercy on you, leaves his bench, takes off his robe and places from his own wallet $100 on the table. He puts his robe back on and returns to his bench. He reaches over, accepts the $100 and says, "Sir, you penalty has been paid. You may go free."
Someone once said, "[God] must either inflict punishment or assume it. And He chose the latter course" (P.T. Forsyth).
This was the cup of God's wrath that Jesus made the conscious decision in the Garden to drink (Mt. 26:39). Rejection and abandonment from the Father is what He feared more than anything. I think of that time when Jesus spoke about being deserted by His followers and exclaimed, "Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (Jn. 16:32). Yet to drink this cup would require a painful separation in the Trinity. Yet for those who hated Him and defied Him and opposed Him, He drank it to the bottom in an incredible act of love.
God the Father never stopped loving the Son, but when the Son became sin (2 Cor. 5:21) the Father who is unable to approve of sin (Hab. 1:13) turned His back. But when the cup was fully drained and the work was completed, the relationship was restored. The Son had now faithfully accomplished His mission. We know from John 19:30 He said, "It is finished." Then verse 50 of our passage tells us, "Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit." Luke 23:46 records those specific final words from the cross: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (notice how Jesus returns to calling God, "Father" again). Jesus, having full control of His death (Jn. 10:17; cf. Isa. 53:12), voluntarily laid down His life and did so knowing He was returning to the loving hands of the Father after faithfully discharging in its entirety the mission for which He was sent where God's inflexible holiness and boundless love collided.
Hymn writer Isaac Watts provides our response:
Forbid it Lord that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
(When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
2. A BLESSED PEOPLE
So as we move to the second point, what exactly does this passage say that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross? Let me show you three things.
First, verse 51, "And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."
We know from the Old Testament that there were two main chambers in the Temple. There was the Holy Place and beyond that a Most Holy Place. It was the Most Holy Place that stored the Ark of the Covenant. It was in this place that only the high priest would enter with a blood sacrifice one time each year on the Day of Atonement. The Most Holy Place represented the direct presence of God. And this practice reminded the people how distant they were from God because of their sins.
Yet separating the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was a curtain or veil (Ex. 26:31-33). The Bible says the moment that Jesus paid for our sins, this very veil was torn from top to bottom. Again the symbolism is obvious. The barrier between God and man has been removed. We now have direct access to His presence because Jesus Christ, the eternal blood sacrifice, has removed our sins. The veil was torn and in about 40 years the temple will be destroyed showing that there is no longer any need for additional blood sacrifices. As Jesus predicted at the Last Supper, the New Covenant had arrived through the shedding of His blood (Mt. 26:28)
The high priest would enter that room on a yearly basis, trembling. Now we read in the letter to the Hebrews that we can "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16; cf. Heb. 6:19; 10:19). For those in Christ, we always approach God with holy reverence, but we also approach Him as One who accepts us and is delighted when we enter His presence. The offense of our sin has been removed, and we enter into an intimate relationship with Him whereby He bids us to call Him "Abba Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
All of you treat me with much more honor than I deserve. When you wish to see me, you often make an appointment or gently knock on my office door. But when I am working and the door unexpectedly flies open, I know it's one of four little faces. You see, my children have a special access, a special privilege to meet with their father whenever they wish. If you are in Christ, you are now accepted as a child of God.
Second, still in verse 51, "And the earth shook and the rocks were split."
Earthquakes are another sign of God's judgment in the Old Testament. But since this happened after Christ completed His work, we can no longer say the judgment was upon Jesus. Rather I believe we need to conclude that this is a judgment upon the people and a foretaste of God's ultimate judgment that will come upon the earth at the end of this age (Isa. 24:19). As we studied in chapters 24 and 25, there will be an end to this world, a final outpouring of God's wrath at the Second Coming of Christ. The present earth will be destroyed (cf. Heb. 12:25-27) and a new heaven and new earth will be created (2 Pet. 3:13).
Just think logically about what the cross accomplished. If God originally created the earth good and Satan messed it up the way it is now, would it not be reasonable to assume that God will bring it back to its original perfection so that He will have the final say? And if God went through all that we have discussed to provide salvation for humanity through Jesus Christ, what does it say about those who reject His offer? How do you think they will be treated when Jesus Christ returns? The earthquakes shed light on these two points.
Third, verses 52 and 53 describe another blessing wrought for us through the work of Christ. "The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many."
The great promise of coming to Christ is that we will have eternal life. As we learned recently in the heaven series, when we die our souls go immediately to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). And when Christ returns we also get our resurrected bodies. Jesus Christ died. His soul went to be with the Father immediately (as we learned today in verse 50). Three days later at the Resurrection, His body was reunited with His soul. He is the "first fruits" (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). We have the promise from Him that the same will be true for us.
I believe this account in verses 52 and 53 shows a foretaste of what is to come. I do not know what their bodies looked like, nor do I know if they ever died again, nor do I know what they did for three days until Christ resurrected and entered Jerusalem, but I do know that a resurrected body is a promise in the future for all those who die in Christ.
3. A CONFESSING SOLDIER
Let me take you to one more point which I am calling, "A Confessing Soldier." We have covered the purpose of Christ's sacrifice and the blessings it secured. Let's close by looking at one man's response to this event.
Verse 36 says that the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus kept watch over Him. Now we read in verse 54 that these soldiers guarding Jesus are deeply moved when they witness the dramatic events unfolding. The text says they became "very frightened." According to Mark 15:39, their leader, the centurion, spoke on their behalf: "Truly this was the Son of God!" (cf. Lk. 23:47).
It is not clear as to how much these men understood about Jesus in making this confession. I am sure it was safe to assume they understood His charges that He was "The King of the Jews" because of the sign that hung above His head (Mt. 27:37). I am sure they knew that darkness at high noon and earthquakes immediately following a man's death are not normal events. Possibly they were even aware of Jesus' proclamation before Caiaphas that He is "the Christ, the Son of God" (Mt. 26:63-64). And like that thief on the cross (Lk. 23:41-42), their perception of Jesus was changed that very afternoon. It resulted in a declaration. Amazing! The Jewish leaders mock Him with that very title (Mt. 27:23), yet the pagans take that title upon their lips as a solemn confession (cf. Mt. 8:5-13; 15:21-28)!
So amidst the mockery that afternoon were some Roman soldiers who knew they were standing in the presence of One somehow related to deity. They were terrified over the reality of God's holiness and in their fear acknowledged Jesus Christ as the "Son of God."
Have you done the same? Are you still trying to figure out life and get to heaven based upon your religion or good works or have you accepted the One who paid the penalty for all your sins? Either Jesus bears our sins or we do. Think about it this way: If the Father turned His back on the Son (!) when He was regarded a sinner, we can be confident that He will do the same to every human with sin who stands before Him at the final judgment. We are saved by His rejection, or we must bear our own rejection throughout eternity.
If you have yet to do so, will you right now acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior and live the rest of your days for His honor and glory?