The time is 9 a.m. The place is Golgotha, the place of the skull. And as we draw near, we see that there are three crosses, but even a superficial glance makes it very clear that the man on the middle cross is very, very different. He's almost unrecognizable as a man. There is a spittle on his face. Some of the hairs have been plucked from his beard. He's tired.
Clearly, he is in agony. And this, we realize, is the Lord Jesus, our magnificent Savior, the Savior of the world. He's wearing a crown of thorns. It's been put on his head in mockery, and there he hangs on the old rugged cross. It's a piece of wood. We wear crosses made of gold, even with diamonds, and we make something very beautiful out of the cross, but this cross is a very ugly cross.
The beauty is not on the piece of wood. The beauty is seen in the person on the cross. Our Lord Jesus died a death of shame, a death of agony.
He died as a despised criminal in polite Roman society. The word cross was never mentioned. Crux it is in Latin. It was never to be uttered.
It was an obscenity. Paul tells us that the preaching of the cross to the Gentiles, to the Greeks is foolishness. To the Jews, the preaching of the cross is an absolute scandal, to think that anything good could come from one who's hanging on a cross under the very curse of God. But to understand the Christian faith, that is to understand biblical, orthodox Christianity, we must understand the cross. The apostles wrote of it.
It was central to their thinking, central to their theology. Peter writes that he himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree. That's the gospel. Jesus dies on an old, rugged piece of wood. He dies on a cross of shame, but there He's dying for our sins. Let's read Matthew as he continues his account. We thought of this last week as we saw our Lord Jesus being led from Gabbatha, from Pilate's judgment hall, bearing His own cross until Simon is conscripted, until Simon is given the cross, and we watch our Savior as He goes out of the old city and makes His way to Golgotha, the place of the skull. We're thinking now on the holiest of grounds, surely, we're thinking of the mystery of the cross.
Read with me. I hope you come with your Bibles. Matthew chapter 27. If you're here for the first time, let me say we began our study of Matthew a long time ago. We're almost at the end, and we're going consecutively through it.
So our topics are decided by the text, not by what I think. Matthew 27, verse 46. Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, Ali, Ali, lama sabathini. 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 other said, wait, let's see whether Elijah will come to save him. And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 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. 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.
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. The mystery of the cross. Jesus the Christ is bearing our sin, and we see Him in darkness. The Bible tells us that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. But on the cross, darkness surrounds the Son of God. After three hours on the cross, the crucifixion begins.
Our time is, as it were, 9 a.m., and then we read in verse 46, from the sixth hour, in Roman time that's noon, until the ninth hour, that's 3 p.m., there's this darkness over all the land. This spiritual darkness surely signifying the judgment of God as Jesus bears our punishment for our sins. Remember back in the Garden of Gethsemane, in chapter 26, as our Lord is in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He says in chapter 26, verse 39, my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as you will. Now, He is drinking that cup, that awful cup that is mentioned in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, this darkness is also a symbol of desolation and separation and is verbally expressed by this loud cry of Jesus.
Did you hear it? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This is the only saying which Matthew and Mark record. We know as we look at Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, our Lord said seven things on the cross. We call them the seven sayings of Jesus. Matthew and Mark only mention this one, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Luke mentions three others and John mentions three others. This cry, verse 46, if you know your Bible, comes from a messianic psalm, Psalm 22, verse 1, where the psalmist says, my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? And Jesus is quoting it.
I'm sure He knew all of Psalm 22 and may have quoted more of it, but here we have the first verse of Psalm 22. This is the only time, incidentally, when our Lord addresses God as God. In all other cases in the gospels, when He's praying, He prays to His Father. For example, in the Lord's Prayer, our Father who are in heaven. Some of the other sayings on the cross, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Father, forgive them for they know not what they're doing. It's amazing that on the cross as He's being crucified, He's praying for forgiveness.
The world says, love yourself. Religion says, love others. Jesus says, love your enemies. And He prays to His Father. But now He says, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Now Jesus knows that He's going to be delivered by His Father through His resurrection. But now on the cross, He is the sacrifice for sinners. John the Baptist has said, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And this is now happening. He has taken away the sin of the world. And as He's doing that, He's asking this question, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? God is triune, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now could God forsake God? In essence, in substance, the unity of the Trinity is preserved. What's happening here is not a break in essence, that's unthinkable, is not a break in essence of the Trinity, but is our Lord is being forsaken, not in essence, but in presence.
The darkness falls. The fellowship between Him and His Father is darkened. No angel comes to the Son's help. On other occasions, we read in the Gospels that the angels ministered to Him during His ministry, but not on this occasion. And also notice that although He is forsaken, His trust is still in God.
He addresses God as my God, my God. And furthermore, the love of the Father continues for the Son. The Father doesn't stop loving His Son when His Son is bearing the sin of the world. We see the judgment of God against sin falling on the sinless Christ. The cross of Christ is the greatest demonstration of the love of God. We had this past week our music camp, and each day the children learned a verse, and one of the days they learned Romans 5 verse 8. What does it say? Music camp children know?
Do the adults know? But God shows or God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And when our Lord Jesus on the cross in these hours of darkness cries, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
There is no answer to the Lord's cry. In the silence and in the darkness of Golgotha, atonement for our sin is being made. Do you have any idea of how awful sin is? I hope you understand what a sinner you are.
But think of all of the sin of the world. The Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world. And Paul writes so wonderfully in Romans chapter 8 regarding the Father, he says, the Father did not spare His Son, but delivered Him up for us all. When we read that, we think of the story of Abraham and Isaac when Isaac is about to be delivered up. And at the last moment, God says, no, here is a substitute, a ram caught in a thicket, but for the Son of God, as He is being offered up as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, there is no last minute reprieve. The Father does not spare His Son, but delivers Him up. Why?
For us all. Do you understand why this is your only hope? This is your only way of salvation? Now further understand that on the cross, it is true men nailed Him to the cross, wicked men, hardened men. It's true the crowd and the religious establishment and Pilate and Herod wanted Him dead.
That's true. And they hung Him on a cross. What is also true, that Jesus is voluntarily laying down His life. Isaiah 53, verse 10, it was the will of the Lord to crush Him, He has put Him to grief. Yes, in a very real sense and fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, the Father is putting the Son to grief.
The Father is smiting His Son. The Shepherd is being struck down. But all of this is in God's triune plan of salvation. And the innocent Lamb of God is bearing the sin of the world, yours and mine.
I want you to think of that. That Christ bore our hell, as it were, that we might share His heaven. That Christ enters into the darkness so that you and I, for all of eternity, may live in the life and the light of heaven. That the sinless Christ bears the sin of the world, that we who are so sinful might be free. So, Paul says that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
He goes into the darkness so that we may forever live in the light of the glory of God. And Jesus is voluntarily laying down His life. Did you notice verse 50? And Jesus cried again with a loud voice.
Notice it was a loud voice. The cry in verse 46, He cried with a loud voice. Jesus is voluntarily laying down His life. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the eternal purposes of God, chooses the exact time when He will lay down His life on the cross. He said in John chapter 10, no one takes my life from me. I've power to lay it down and I've power to take it up again of my own accord.
Isn't that wonderful? And that the time chosen, the exact time chosen from all of eternity by the triune God, our Savior, verse 50, cries again with a loud voice and yields up His Spirit. John says, in his account of the cross, our Lord cried, finished. And again, John says, He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. He's laying down His life, finished, and He bows His head and gives up His Spirit.
The man who mentored me as a very young and a very naive attorney, not only was, I've spoken to him before, his name was James Tate, not only was he a brilliant attorney, he was a very strong follower of Christ, a quiet man, a reserved man until he got into court where he took on another life, but he was very quiet, very shy, and in the goodness of God, he mentored me. And he was a bit of a poet. And thinking of this, he writes some lines.
I'm going to quote them. Are you ready for this? Meekly He bows His sacred head to die. The agony, the shame are almost o'er. The parched lips of Christ can bear no more, but yet He bows His head, submissive still, in the hour of death, to all the Father's will.
Do you get that? He is obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And that bowed head symbolized His perfect obedience to the Father's will.
Then James Tate writes a verse for us. Be still, proud heart, how can I stand and look on that head so humbly, bending low, and not lament with tears and shame of face thy willful ways, rebelling, murmuring so, all for the grace in every earthly loss to bow the head to God as Christ did on the cross. Anyone here ever suffered loss? Anyone here ever found life hard? Anyone here ever gone through something which was extremely difficult? The answer is yes, just about all of us, unless we're very, very young.
What are we to do? What does the cross of Christ tell us? It certainly tells us that He bore our sins, but it's also a perfect example, isn't it, of what it means to be a follower of Christ, that in every earthly loss, I'm to bow the head to God as Christ did on the cross. Some of you are familiar with the Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers and devotions.
Here's an extract. Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy. Cast off that I might be brought in, trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend, surrendered to hell's worst that I might attain heaven's best, stripped that I might be clothed, wounded that I might be healed, a thirst that I might drink, tormented that I might be comforted, made a shame that I might inherit glory, entered darkness that I might have eternal life.
That's it. He goes into the darkness, so then now He says, the one who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Did you notice also something very strange? Verse 51, behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. In the tabernacle and in the temple, there was a veil, a curtain. It was a sign of God's unapproachability. It symbolized there was no way into the presence of God. The veil was made of blue and purple and scarlet. Cherubim were woven into the curtain symbolizing God's protective presence.
There it is. It separated the holy place from the holy of holies. What was in the holy place? Three articles of furniture, there was the table of showbread, there was the altar of incense, and then there was the lampstand. What was in the holy of holies?
The ark of the covenant. It was there, and between the holy place and the holy of holies was this magnificent temple. Who entered into the holy place? The priests. In the tabernacle and the temple, the average worshiper came, as it were, to the priests, there to worship, there to give their animal to be worshipped. Who entered into the holy place? The ordinary priests. Who entered into the holy of holies? Only one man, and that once a year, the high priest. On the great day of atonement described in Leviticus 16, Yom Kippur, on that one day, just one day of the year, the high priest entered into the holy of holies.
Sinners are separated from a holy God. Here was the visible manifestation of the presence of God among His people, that God desires to dwell with His people. Make for me a tent in the wilderness, a tabernacle. And now, Solomon builds a permanent temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. There it was, symbolizing the presence of God.
And now, the crucifixion. It was wonderful, verse 51, that curtain is torn in two from top to bottom. How big do you think the curtain in the temple was?
Solomon tells us in 1 Kings 6. The height of the temple was 45 feet, that's big. It was 30 cubits. What's a cubit? A cubit is the measurement of a man from the tip of his largest finger to his elbow. Yesterday afternoon, I measured mine, and being close to the perfect man, it was 18 inches, right? A foot and a half. So, 30 cubits is 45 feet. Now, that's the height of the temple. Now, supposing there was a little… what didn't quite go the whole length up, but it was a huge curtain. How could you rip a curtain from the top to the bottom that is over 40 feet?
Answer. It wasn't man that tore the curtain, was it? It was God Himself. It was torn by God from the top to the bottom, that through the death of God's wonderful Son, in His perfect act of obedience, in taking that cup, in drinking that cup, in going into the hours of darkness and the incredible mystery of the cross, where He who is no sin is made sin for us now. He yields up His Spirit.
And what happens? Can we say this reverently? God is unfailed. That our blessed Savior has opened a way to God. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain that is through His flesh.
Wonderful. At Golgotha, the Old Testament system and sacrifices and priesthood are forever abolished. The Holy of Holies, think of it, now stands open. That curtain in the tabernacle, that curtain in the temple, which had been there for over a thousand years separating the presence of God from the people of God is abolished. The veil is forever gone.
And only in a few years, the Roman army is going to come and is going to totally demolish the temple, symbolizing that it's over, it's gone. And now, access to the throne room of God is open to all, Jew and Gentile, who come through our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the veil, as it were. He has unveiled God, that we who are sinful man and woman, I don't need a priest, I don't need a high priest. You don't need that, that you through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can come right into the throne room of God. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, Hebrews 4 verse 16, let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. That when we come to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the way, that's not just a formula, in Jesus' name, amen. This is recognizing when we pray that we have no standing, no jurisdiction before God by ourselves. How can you approach a holy God?
Only one way, through our Lord Jesus Christ. We come in His name, and we come to the throne of judgment, as what you deserve. No, it's the throne of grace. That we may receive mercy. Do you need mercy?
Of course you do. All of your past sins, you need God's mercy every single day, don't you? That we may receive mercy and find grace. Do you need grace today? Inner strength, inner wisdom, God's help for today, yes, to help in time of need. Why is it, brothers and sisters, we're so slow to pray that you have your time of need, your time of anxiety, the time when you feel so helpless that you and I, through the wonderful work of our Lord Jesus Christ, that this curtain, this veil is torn down, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I can come at any time, right into the throne room of God, right in, as it were, to the Holy of Holies, to God Himself, through the name of my Lord Jesus Christ, and there I will receive the mercy and the grace in my time of need. You've experienced that, haven't you, brother? I have.
I hope you have, sister. I hope you know what it is to receive His mercy and His grace in your time of need, and the entire sacrificial system foreshadowed this one great, unrepeatable, perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, every believer is a priest. That's what Martin Luther said. He preached the priesthood of believers.
That sounds incredible. It is incredible that we're a family of priests, and you and I don't need some human mediator. You don't need some priest or pastor or guru or anyone else to mediate between you and God. You come in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We approach Him directly, and we have immediate access at any time.
Imagine being able to go into the throne room of God any time. You know, if you want to go to your doctor, you've got to make appointments, don't you? I'm calling for an appointment this week, and you think, boy, it is difficult to get to see my doctor. I don't have immediate access to him, of course not. I don't have immediate access to some of my friends. I don't have immediate access sometimes to my wife.
She goes out of town and leaves me all alone. But think of this. I do have immediate access to great God in my time of need. The way is opened. The blood is shed. The bridge is completed.
The work is finished. The price is paid. This is why we say He's the only way to God. No wonder He says, I'm the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father apart from me. Who else came from heaven to earth so that you can go from earth to heaven?
Has anyone else ever done this? Of course not. He's unique. There is none like Him, nor will there ever be anyone like Him. And the worst of people and the best of people can come that God's love extends to all the world. There is no other way of forgiveness, no other way for my sins to be forgiven, no other way to receive eternal life. Now, did you notice something else, verse 51? Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. I wonder if it made a noise. I wonder if it was a sound of a huge tear. And the earth shook.
No wonder. Think of the momentous occasion of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The earth shook and the rocks were split. There's an earthquake. 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, that's Jerusalem, and appeared to many.
The earthquake surely was a sign of God's judgment against those who put Jesus on the tree. Tombs were opened. Bodies of some of the saints were raised. After the resurrection, they go into the holy city, Jerusalem.
They appear to many, we're told. This is a restoration to life, similar to the resurrection of Lazarus. Remember Lazarus? Raised from the dead.
What's happening? Jesus Christ, Paul says, is the first fruit from the dead. He said to his followers in John 14, because I live, you shall live also. Our Lord Jesus Christ dies. We're going to see next week that He's in the tomb. Then we're going to, of course, celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Resurrection is coming, and these saints being raised out of the tomb is a symbol, is a picture, is an enacted parable, a historical event that death has been conquered by our Lord Jesus Christ. That He's gone into death, and through His death, those who know Him, those who are united to Him will live forever and ever. He Himself had said in John 11, I am the resurrection and the life.
He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never ever die. And then, verse 54, we have this amazing confession by this unlikely character, the centurion. He's a Gentile. He's a commander of a hundred soldiers. He's the executioner. He's in charge of the execution, a Roman. Fascinating, isn't it, that this confession is made by a Roman centurion, a pagan who witnesses the suffering and death of Jesus. Verse 54, when the centurion and those who are with him keeping watch over Jesus, their job, what a grisly job, their job is to put to death Jesus. They're keeping watch over Jesus.
When they see the earthquake, what take place? They were filled with awe and said, truly, this was the Son of God. Through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, there's offered salvation even to someone like this centurion. After all, Jesus had prayed, Father, forgive them for they know not what they're doing. And this man, as he began the grisly task of putting to death the prisoner Jesus, he had no idea what he was doing. And now, as he watches, as he sees what's going on, he makes this declaration, truly, this was the Son of God.
I'm sure he'd put many people to death. Roman power was ruthless, but here is a power greater than Rome. Here is a power of God for salvation. Political and military power may seem impressive, but in seeming weakness, in seeming defeat, the magnificent power of God is being displayed at the cross. At the foot of the cross, this hard soldier, this tough guy, has his heart changed. And down through the centuries, for over 2,000 years ago, soldiers, tough men, little children, people of all walks of life, of all ages have simply come and have come to the cross of Christ. I wonder if you've ever been there. I praise God in the goodness of God. I've been there.
I know what I'm talking about. I've experienced the transformation that takes place at the foot of the cross. There is this compelling attraction of the Savior that He said that He would be lifted up, so that as people look at Him, as they receive Him, as they believe in Him, will receive eternal life. And then there's these women in verses 55 and 56.
There are also many women looking on. Do you think, where were the apostles? Where were the eleven apostles?
Isn't it the case that women often have a stronger faith than men? They were looking on from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee. Galilee is away in the north, and these women had followed Jesus, and now they come to Judea, right to Jerusalem, and they had ministered to Jesus. They had served Him. They had taken care of Him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
They're characterized by faithful loyalty. They had begun to follow Jesus. They had served Him when He was in Galilee. They had been with Him as He traveled from the north right down to Jerusalem, and they had continued following Him, unlike the apostles, right to the cross. I'm sure they were sad.
I'm sure they were confused. It says they were looking on from a distance, but they were demonstrating their great love and loyalty toward Lord Jesus. These many women, verse 55, love Jesus. They're at the burial of Jesus.
We're going to see next week verse 61, a couple of them. To these women are given the privilege of being the first human witnesses of the resurrected Christ, faithfully following Jesus, for at least three years following Jesus. Following Jesus isn't always easy, is it?
It couldn't have been easier for these women. Fearful, confused. We sometimes feel like giving up, don't we? We go through difficult times in our Christian faith. Things don't work out the way we think they should, how they expect, how we are expected, what we think we deserve, and life can be tough and life can be hard, and sometimes we feel we want to give up, don't we? Sometimes there's a bit of rebellion in us through unexpected circumstances and discouragements, and sometimes you may feel like retreating, sometimes you may feel like pulling back, and once you serve the Lord with great zeal, with great devotion, once you were very close to the Lord but these difficult circumstances have come, life hasn't been kind to you in your view, and you've pulled back.
I can ask you if you feel like that, and who hasn't felt like that sometimes? If you feel like that, I want you to keep looking at the cross. I want you to look at the Lord Jesus, the Savior of the world. I want you to be steadfast. I don't want you to give up. I want you to keep following Jesus. I want you to keep responding to Jesus with faithful loyalty. Our mission is being and making authentic followers of Jesus Christ. That means I'm to follow Him every day of my life, whether that day is wonderful or whether it's hard. You are to follow Him today and tomorrow.
Will you do that? You find it difficult, go back to the cross and survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died. Remind yourself that the Father did not spare the Son, but delivered Him up for you, that on the cross your Lord Jesus Christ paid the price of your sins. How can you desert Him?
How can you give up? Be strong, be courageous, and keep your eyes on Jesus. The story is told of a missionary who was preaching the gospel to a tribe for the first time.
And as he finished, the chief of the tribe asked him to go over the story again, which the missionary did. And when he came to this story, the story of the cross, the chief stood up and interrupted him and said, hold on, hold on. Take Jesus Christ down from the cross. Take Him down, I say. Jesus Christ doesn't belong on the cross, I belong on the cross.
He got it, didn't he? But the Scripture is that He died for me. The Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. Yes, I deserve to die on the cross. Here is the sinless one who knows no sin becoming sin for us. I ask you again to look to the Savior.
If you've never opened your heart to Christ, will you do that? This is your only way of salvation. This is the only way to receive eternal life. This is the only way to be sure that when you die, you're going to be with the Savior. This is the compelling mystery of the cross, and the power of the cross. Yes, to the world is foolishness.
Yes, to the world is a scandal. But to us who believe, Paul says, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God. I want you today to appear to experience the power of the cross. Our Father and our God, I pray that each one of us here will experience that power. There's mystery here, Father, and I feel so inadequate to preach on these verses, the depth of them, the mystery of them, and yet we rejoice that there our Savior died for our sins, and He died for me. I pray for someone here who does not know Christ, that they'll open their heart to Him. In Christ's name, I pray.
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