Matthew 27:32-54
A Powerless Messiah

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  We have entered Passion week according to the church calendar.  Today is the first day, "Palm Sunday."  It marks the day when the Lord Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  This Thursday is the day he had [his] last supper.  Since Jesus washed the feet of his disciples it is called "Foot Washing Thursday."  We will be holding a foot bathing service on Thursday evening at seven at Osaka Nozomi Church.  Next Friday is the day the Lord was crucified.  We will have a prayer service beginning at noon.  For those of you who will be unable to gather with us, please remember the cross of the Lord and have a time of prayer.

2.  The message given to us for the beginning of [Passion] week is the narrative of his suffering recorded in The Gospel According To Matthew which we just read a moment ago.  I would like us this week to go over and over in our minds what is recorded here in this text and to ponder over its meaning.

The Scoffers And Mockers

3.  Well, we have this cross scene, but strangely enough we don't have a detailed picture of the very crucifixion itself.  In regard to when the Lord Jesus was crucified the text only has "when they put Jesus on the cross."  When you give it some thought, it's strange.  How big and thick were the nails?  How much did the Lord's face twist in pain?  Indeed, Matthew almost gives no depiction of the gruesome spectacle in which the Lord himself was covered in blood along with the men who hung him onto the cross.  It seems Matthew had no interest in the slightest to arouse any sympathy for the Lord Jesus by describing his agony in any detail.  Or, it seems he was not concerned in presenting a picture of an illustrious death to the height of self sacrifice and in impressing [people].  If that was what he was interested in doing, he would have had a much different way of writing about it.

4.  As we read this with this in mind, we come to realize something else.  It is how that the description of the people around him is deliberately in great detail.  Special emphasis is given to the fact the people scoffed at and spoke badly of the Lord Jesus as he was crucified.  Those who were passing by abused him.  Even the high priests with the scribes and the elders insulted the Lord Jesus.  Even the thieves crucified along with him gave him verbal abuse.  The reason the description of those around him is so detailed is so that the reader might be able to find himself or herself there, too.

5.  So, let's turn our attention on these characters who were bad-mouthing the Lord Jesus.  The passersby mocked the Lord. "If you are to tear down the temple, and build it in three days and really are the son of God, try saving yourself.  And come down from the cross," (verse forty).  Because of the fact that the text has on purpose the words "those who were passing by," we know that this means they were not people who were in opposition against the Lord from the start.  If we wonder why they had scoffed at him it was because a placard with the charges against him was published there with the words "This is Jesus, King of the Jews."  For them, "King of the Jews" had about the same meaning as "son of God."  In other words, it meant he was the messiah.  The people had been expecting and looking for the messiah.  But, "the messiah" who was there before them was a man who was being crucified on the cross.  He was a powerless messiah.  He did not fit their expectations.  He was a messiah who was unable to set them free from their toilsome lives.  They had no need for a powerless messiah or anything like him.  This must have been the meaning of their scoffing words.

6.  The insulting words of the high priests have a slightly different nuance.  For them, it was a satisfactory conclusion to an end. [Jesus] had been deceiving the masses with his many different miracles and had acted in ways that seemed to rebel against the religious authorities, but now finally the mask to his true character has been torn off.  Right?  Their state of mind must have went along that sort of line.  They never did believe in the Lord Jesus from the beginning.  They were probably thinking that their righteousness, which he had no faith in, had come to be proven by the Lord's exposure of his powerless character.  In short, their insulting words were nothing but a claim to their own righteousness.

7.  Then, even the thieves made slurs towards the Lord Jesus.  In The Gospel According To Luke is recorded that those who mocked him were at his sides [on other crosses].  But, in Matthew no distinction is made.  Their words are not recorded, but I can suppose what it consisted of.  Just like the others, their words of insult must have been directed towards a powerless messiah.  They were in pain.  They were truly in the extremes of pain.  Those in the immediate vicinity were all excited about him as the messiah just as little as a week before.  But, now they were crucifying him.  The messiah they had among them was one who couldn't do anything when they truly wanted him to help them.  What good was a messiah like that!  That must have been their frame of mind.

Why Have You Deserted Me?

8.  Then, the powerlessness of the messiah they mocked comes to its worst when the Lord Jesus cried out.  "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?," (verse forty-six).  This means, "my God, my God, why have you deserted me?"  The Lord didn't shout this just because he couldn't come down from the cross.  He raised his voice in a cry as a man forsaken by God.

9.  Among those who happened to be there there was one who said, "He is calling Elijah."  Others said, "Let's see whether Elijah will come to save him."  But, Elijah did not come to help.  No matter which way they heard it [as a call to God or Elijah], the clear thing is these words gave them the conviction that "this man was absolutely not any kind of messiah."  Had he died calmly, he might have still been respected.  They could not understand the likes of a messiah lamenting that he had been deserted.  But, both Mark and Matthew record this phrase from the Lord.  If looked at from a general perspective, they were leaving behind a phrase that seemed to be only an obstacle against believing the Lord Jesus as messiah.  But, the early church took it like it was and found great significance in this phrase, and they passed it on as important.

10.  So, I would like for us to think about this phrase just a little more.  This phrase is from Psalm twenty-two.  This psalm was probably [one which] the Lord Jesus and the disciples had the habit of reciting in the words of their prayers.  In this connection, as we have all read from the Psalms, haven't we ever experienced what they did?  We read the Psalms out loud.  We pray with words from the Psalms.  But, the words from them don't always fit exactly right.  The experience we have is that the psalm can't really be our own prayer.  During the period of the passion and in every evening prayer service in our humble church we read the Psalms.  We will read and pray all one hundred and fifty psalms.  However, during that time we will have the experience as
I have already described, namely that, the Psalms do not become our very own prayer to a tee.

11.  Psalm twenty-two is like the other psalms in this regard.  At least it seems so to me.  Because the phrase, "my God, my God why have you deserted me?," seems to be a prayer that only a truly righteous person could say.  Isn't this a prayer that could only be said by a person who has lived in a righteous relationship with God and lived a life in fellowship with him?  Could you say this prayer yourself?  I couldn't.  Because in essence I am a human being unqualified to voice any complaints at all even if I were helplessly abandoned.  Indeed, not just me, but who is there who could declare unjust his or her desertion by God?

12.  Psalm twenty-two is truly "the prayer of a suffering righteous man."  Hence, I suppose the one who can say this prayer with true meaning is  no one else but the person who followed the father's will in obedience to the end.  As we re-look at the cross scene with such a thought, the way we see it changes.  The one who was suffering there was in essence the one and only person who should never have been abandoned.  He truly suffered as an abandoned person by God.  And those around him who did know how to follow God or did not even know that in essence they themselves had been the ones hopelessly abandoned by God were taking the name of God lightly and mocking him.  The sinless one by himself alone had become an abandoned person and the sinful ones had wielded their self righteousness and were shouting out.  That is the scene here.  They were holding high and shouting their own religious viewpoints and their messianic understandings.  "You should come down from the cross right now.  If you did, we'd believe you!"  If you behave to my satisfaction, fulfill my wishes, and make me understand, if you do these things, I will believe you!"  Actually, the words of Psalm twenty-two, which the Lord Jesus had spoken and experienced, clearly bring to the surface these sinful characters in their human arrogance.  But, isn't it really no one but ourselves who are doing the shouting?

The End And The Beginning

13.  Moreover, the cross of the Lord Jesus does not just make the sins of humanity plain.  This is because if it was the will of God that the one who should not have been abandoned was abandoned, there must have been a purpose for God in this.  What does the Bible say?  Elijah did not come to save him.  The Lord Jesus shouted out with a loud voice again and gave his last breath.  Then it goes on further as follows.  Please look at verses fifty one and follows.

14.  "At that time, the veil of the temple was torn in two complete pieces from top to bottom, an earth quake took place, rocks split, and graves opened and the bodies of many holy persons who had been asleep came back to life.  Then after the resurrection of Jesus, they came out of their graves, entered into the holy city, and appeared to many," (verses fifty-one to fifty-three).

15.  As a form of expression is being used here that is common with The Revelation of John, it is impossible to ascertain accurately from this passage what actually happened.  If you took only this portion up and made it into a picture just as it is, it might end up turning into a scene from a horror movie.  The important thing is not just investigating into what happened but to catch the drift of what the gospel is trying to pass on to us through what it has recorded here.

16.  So the important phrase is "at that time."  In the original text [of the Greek] the phrase could be translated "And behold; Look at this."  It is an "at that time" which is calling out to the audience "Look at this."  It was "at that time" when the Lord Jesus took his last breath.  In other words it was "at that time" when it looked like the end to every eye.  It was "at that time" when one person was abandoned by God and the end came.  But, the gospel account was telling us that this was not the end.  It was not the end, but something specific was beginning.  What we should especially take notice of is that the veil of the temple was torn and the resurrection of the dead.

17.  "Veil" means the curtain that divides the holy place from the most holy place in the temple.  There was a "courtyard" in the outermost part of the temple and on the inside there was a holy place.  Furthermore, there was a place called the holy of holies or most holy place within that besides.  In the holy of holies no one usually ever entered.  Only once per year the high priest was permitted to come through the veil into the most holy place.  But, he could not enter the most holy place without bringing in something with him.  What did he bring in with with?  He went in carrying "blood" in his hands.  He carried the blood of a redemptive sacrifice.  The temple veil which he could not pass beyond symbolized the division between God and humans.  There is a division between a holy God and human beings.  Sinful humanity cannot approach God.  One cannot approach God without having his or her sins redeemed and having sin on himself or herself.

18.  But, the veil was torn.  It is shown by the expression, "it split in two from top to bottom," that this act was done by God.  God himself removed the veil of division.  A blood sacrifice for redemption no longer needed to be carried over and over again.  The time period, in which the prescribed form of blood sacrifices was employed, was done and gone.  Because the one true sacrifice had been slain.  They had probably seen till then over and over the animals for the redemptive sacrifice covered with blood and die as they gave their shrieks.  But, at last finally, a sinless redemptive sacrifice offered by God gave his shriek of "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?," and died.  Then God himself tore away with his own hands the veil and every person obtained forgiveness of sin, and a way to draw near to God was opened.

19.  Also, what is being expressed by the phrase, "the bodies of the dead came back to life," is the complete conquest of death.  The rule of death is over.  The rule of life has won the victory over the rule of death.  We should not ignore what is written here along with the veil's getting torn.  The subjugation of death and the forgiveness of sin are not two separate kinds of salvation, but are one and the same salvation.  It is a salvation provided by one person alone, Jesus Christ.

20.  Think about this.  Would it amount to the conquest of death if after you had died you were able to come out again from your graves?  Or, if you were able to live for ever just as you are without dying, would that amount to a conquest over death?  No, that would surely mean [some kind of] hell for you.  What we really need is the forgiveness of sin, to be made righteous by God, and to recover an eternal fellowship with God.  Without them, it wouldn't amount to any kind of victory over death.  If we only came out of our graves that would mean a return to the land of the dead, hell.  I recall to mind the people I have prayed with on their sick beds and who have died.  When a person comes near to the end of his or her life, his or her wealth or reputation do not have great meaning then.  Neither does a sumptuous meal have meaning for him or her.  What one needs in order for death to be defeated ultimately is nothing but the words addressed by God to us, "Your sins are forgiven."

21.  The Lord Jesus was a powerless messiah on the cross.  But, during the extremes of his powerlessness, he had accomplished for us the work of salvation which we needed most of all.  As a powerless king the Lord was scoffed at by sinners and abandoned by God.  This was so that sinful us would not become an abandoned people.  Therefore, Paul used the following expression for this event.  "God made him who had nothing to do with sin sin on our behalf.  We are enabled to obtain the righteousness of God through him, (Second Corinthians 5:21).  Because of this truth the Bible is now calling out to us:  "I beg you in Christ's place.  Please receive reconciliation with God," (Second Corinthians 5:20).

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