…Was Crucified (Matthew 27:45-54)
God creates an entirely new world out of the death of His Son
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And 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?”
47 Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” 48 Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink.
49 The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
After months and months of going through Matthew’s Gospel chapter by chapter and verse by verse, we have finally come to the climactic moment. The God who created everything in existence, the God who chose one nation, Israel, to be His priests to minister to the nations, came to His people, He took on human flesh and dwelt among man. And for three years He ministered to Israel, preaching with authority, confirming that His Words are the very words of God by miraculous signs and wonders, healing the paralyzed and blind, feeding thousands with a little bread and a few fish, and even raising the dead. These signs He did to show Israel that they should listen to His preaching and repent, to turn from their wickedness and follow Him. But Israel did not listen. Quite the opposite. Rather than obey the God who came directly to them in the flesh, they seized the opportunity to put their God to death. And now Jesus hangs on a cross about to die.
Calling for Elijah in the Darkness (v. 45-50)
Matthew tells us that from the sixth hour (noon) until the ninth hour (3 pm) all over the land (presumably Israel). This is not just a random detail. Darkness has deep meaning in the Bible. In order to understand the picture the Bible is painting, you have to understand it from the very beginning, the early chapters of Genesis. Where is the biblical significance of darkness established for us? In Genesis chapter one. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void. And darkness covered the face of the deep. At the very outset of creation, there was what? Darkness. And what did God do? God spoke (you might even say “He cried out with a loud voice”), and said “let there be light” and there was light. The very first act of creation was God speaking light into existence out of the darkness.
Now, Jesus on the cross is enveloped by darkness. The whole land is covered in darkness; a land meant to be a light to the nations is now fully subsumed by the darkness of death. The God who spoke and the universe was created, the God whose first act of creation was creating light out of darkness by speaking now hangs on a cross and is covered by deep darkness. The world is reverting to a state of de-creation. It is going back to the way it was at the very beginning. And in this dark, God does what He did the first time: He speaks. But He does not speak like the almighty, powerful God whose voice booms out of the heavens. He speaks like a man being tortured to death. Here, He is not commanding the light to shine in the darkness but is crying out in pain and anguish. And what is this thing that He cries out? He cries out a Psalm, and not just any Psalm, but the Psalm we looked at in last week’s passage, the Psalm was written hundreds of years before Christ came, but narrates His crucifixion in precise detail. From the cross, Jesus is simultaneously calling attention to this Psalm that is about Him, and genuinely crying out in agony.
But Israel does not know God’s Word when she hears it. This has been true Jesus’s entire ministry. Why did Jesus start to speak in parables, in riddles? Not to make His points more clear, but because Israel had become deaf, dumb, and stupid. Israel refused to hear clear instruction from her God, so her God chose to make His instruction unclear as a judgment upon them. Even here at the cross, it is painfully obvious that Jesus’ judgment upon Israel was not too harsh. He speaks Psalm 22, and they are totally ignorant of it. The very people who were given the Bible as an inheritance to share with the nations are totally ignorant of what it says. Instead, they think Jesus is calling for Elijah (which is why Matthew gives us the statement in Aramaic instead of Greek, because we can see why they are confused). In Hebrew, Elijah’s name is “My God is Yah(weh).” So when Jesus yells “My God, My God,” He in fact really is saying part of Elijah’s name. But why would they get confused about this? Why would they think Jesus is calling this Old Testament prophet while on the cross?
You have to remember that Israel at this time was filled with Messianic expectation. The prophet Daniel had given them a timeline, and they were right in the time that Daniel said the Messiah would come. And add to this the last two verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6:
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
God had promised, right before He was silent for hundreds of years, that right before the Messiah comes and bring the great and terrible day, Elijah the prophet would show up. They were ignorant of the Psalms, but they at least knew this. Their understanding was that the Messiah would be a great warrior king who would liberate them from Rome and conquer the world. That is what the great and dreadful day of the Lord was to them.
But what was it really? They were literally in the midst of it! The great and dreadful day of the Lord wasn’t being done to the world by the Messiah, it was being done to the Messiah by the world! And, Elijah did come. Who was Elijah? It was John the Baptist. That is why he dressed and lived like Elijah eating locusts and honey in the wilderness. What the Jews thought was mockery, “this idiot on the cross thinks he’s the great and powerful Messiah. Ha! He’s probably calling for Elijah!” It would be like saying of someone about to be executed for treason, who claims he is the rightful President of the United States, “he’s calling for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to administer the oath of office.” They’re mocking Him.
Little do they know, what they think is totally absurd is actually reality. Jesus is the Messiah and the great and terrible day of Yahweh is here. They are participating in it.
At this point, they soaked a sponge with vinegar and ran it up to Jesus on a reed, and offered it to Him. And they mocked Him yet again, “Let’s see if the Chief Justice shows up to swear you in!” “Let’s see if Elijah will save Him.” And at this point, as He is being mocked in His agony, Jesus cries out yet again and gave up the ghost. God is dead.
The Beginning of A New Creation (v. 50-54)
Man has killed God on the cross. He is dead. His death is the end of an old world. The old creation is collapsing in on itself. And what was the heart of the original world that God made? It is the one single place on earth where God chose to dwell—the temple. From God’s perspective, the temple was the very heart of the earth, the very center of the earth from which everything else radiated. And so it is not random that the very first thing that happens upon Jesus’s death is what? The temple is rendered unusable. The old creation is being deconstructed. It is being torn apart. It is being destroyed. Literally. The earth is shaking, and the rocks are being split open.
And something strange also happens. At the death of God the Son, the dead begin to rise. Matthew says this happens after His resurrection, but tells us about it here out of order because it is directly tied to the quaking of the earth that took place upon Jesus’s death. The old earth has been shaken loose and has begun to give up her dead. Matthew is showing us the first fruits of a New Creation. Dead are being raised to herald the victory of Jesus. Even in telling us the bitter agony of Christ’s death, Matthew cannot help giving us a spoiler. The dead raised go into the holy city and appeared to many after His resurrection.
And the other first fruit Matthew gives us a peek of is the Roman centurion, witnessing the spectacular events that accompanied the death of Jesus, a professional soldier who knew no fear, became afraid, and confessed “this truly was the Son of God.” The victory of the Messiah, Israel’s King, began to be made known to the nations at that moment.
In the darkness of Calvary, the world reverts back to its original state.
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