The Day Christ Was Crucified

April 5, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 27:32-56

1. We have entered into Passion week. It is the whole week before Easter. Thursday falls on the day when the last supper was made, Friday falls on the day when he was crucified. The message we are given on the first day of that whole week is the passion story which is written in The Gospel According to Matthew, which we read just ago.

The People Ridiculing The Powerless Messiah

2. Well, it is the cross scene, but strangely, there is no detailed description about the crucifixion itself. I once heard some missionary rework the scene of the cross in a sermon in a beautiful and vivid way. But, in regard to Jesus' being crucified, Matthew only recorded that "When they put Jesus on the cross ..." It seems that he had no interest in arousing sympathies for Jesus by outlining the details of his agony.

3. But on the other hand, we notice that a detailed description is given about the people around him. [It speaks of] the scoffers of the crucified Jesus. The text doesn't just say that "The people insulted Jesus." Among the verbal abusers there were people who were passing by, including chief priests, scribes, and elders - and even the robbers crucified with him were among [the scoffers]. Why is there even a detailed description of the people around him? Maybe it is so that we can discover our own selves there as we read this.

4. With that then, let's take a good look at how they are, the figure given of them. First the passersby are hurling insults at Jesus. "[You] who will knock down the temple and build it in three days, if you are the son of God, save yourself! And come down from the cross," (verse forty). We see from the fact that it is deliberately written here in the text as "the passersby" that these are not persons who were originally against the Lord. So why did they insult him? [They did] because a criminal charge of "This is Jesus the king of the Jews" was posted there. For them, [the terms] "the king of the Jews," "the son of God," and "the messiah" had roughly the same meaning. If you're the "son of God," "the king of the Jews," "the messiah," I want you to be tough for me. I want you to knock down the Gentiles and set me free. Many of the Jews were hoping for that. They were expecting that from [the messiah]. But, with "the king of the Jews" actually all written out like that, [what they got] was a crucified king. [He] wasn't the messiah who lived up to the expectation. They had no need for some impotent messiah. So they hurl their insults at him.

5. Meanwhile, the insulting words from the chief priests are slightly different in their meaning. For them, it was the exact conclusion they were wanting from [Jesus]. Although he was confusing the public and doing things against the religious authorities, in the end, his disguise of sheep skin was peeled off. Their mental state must have been somewhere near that. They did not believe in Jesus from the start. And in their minds, unbelieving as they were, their own righteousness was proven out in the long run. In short, the insulting words from them were none other than an emphasis on their own righteousness.

6. In addition, even the robbers abused Jesus with words. Their words are not recorded, but we can make a good guess at them. They are actually in the extremity of pain. Right next to them, there is a man who until just a week ago had been receiving a lot of publicity as the messiah by the people. But now he is being crucified. The messiah is right near them, but he cannot do a thing at the moment they are wanting him to help them. What in the world is a messiah like that good for! That must have been their take on it.

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani!?

7. Then the powerless messiah cries out. "Eli, Eli, Lama sabachthani!?," (verse forth-six), which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He could not only not come down from the cross. [But also] as a man abandoned by God, he raises his voice to a shout. Anybody who might have heard these words would definitely have gotten the conviction that "This man is absolutely not the messiah." Yet, strangely enough, the church has still been passing these words of Christ on without changing them. It has been passing on words that could only be a hindrance to believing Jesus as the messiah. Why would it do that?

8. These words that Jesus uttered are found in Psalm twenty-two. In it the psalmist prays, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?," (Psalm 22:2). In a certain sense it does seem natural to cry out to God with "Why have you forsaken me?" when one is in the extremity of pain like that. But when we consider this carefully, we can also make the case that they are not words easily uttered. If we turned to God sincerely while in the extremity of pain and asked him, "Why have you forsaken me?," wouldn't we surely be reminded of each sin one after the other from our past? Though unable to do anything about each reason for being forsaken, wouldn't we be reminded of each reason one after the other? Like Job, is the person who can't think of one single reason for being abandoned, the person who has been living purely in obedience to God, the truly righteous person, the only one by nature who can make this appeal to God of "Why have you forsaken me?" as we have here? In that sense then, I also make the claim that ultimately there is nobody able to utter this prayer, except for the sinless Jesus who perfectly obeyed the will of the father.

9. When we take another look at the cross scene with these thoughts in view, our way of seeing changes. The person suffering there should not be abandoned if the way he is matters for anything. [But] he is suffering as a person abandoned by God. And ridiculing Jesus and speaking the name of God lightly are - those around him who are unaware that he has truly been obedient to God, - those who could not help it even if they had been abandoned by God if the way they were by nature meant anything, - those who do not even notice themselves in their condition. The only one sinless person turns out abandoned, and the sinful ones are shouting and waving their own righteousness. That's the scene. They are shouting waving around their selfish expectations. "Come down from the cross right away. Then, we'll believe you!" Show us your power! Grant my requests! Make me understand, then I'll believe you! They ridiculed him talking that way. Aren't the ones actually doing the shouting there none other than us?

What The Messiah Accomplished

10. But, if the fact, that the one who should not by nature be abandoned is being abandoned, is happening as the will of God, then we should suppose that there is a special purpose behind it. What is the Bible saying? Jesus raised his voice to a shout again and gave up his breath. Then, it continues on as follows. "At that moment, the curtain in the temple split in two from top to bottom, an earthquake occurred, the rocks split, tombs opened and the bodies of many saints who were sleeping came back to life. And after the resurrection of Jesus, they left the tombs, entered the holy capital city, and showed themselves to many," (verses fifty-one through fifty-three).

11. An important phrase here is "at that moment." The original text is a word that can be translated as "And behold!" The "at that moment" stands for the "behold." It is "that moment" when Jesus gave up his breath. In other words, it is "that moment" when in everyone's eyes it appeared to be the end. It is "that moment" when the solitary one was abandoned by God and it was over. But, it was not over, that's what the gospel is telling us. It was not over, rather, a turning point had begun. We should observe in particular the situation that is expressed with the words: the curtain in the temple tore and the dead came back to life.

12. "The curtain" means the veil hanging before the room that is called "the holy of holies" which is in the inner most part of the temple. Ordinarily nobody can go in the holy of holies. Only once a year, the high priest used to be permitted to enter the holy of holies through the curtain. The high priest carried the blood of the sin atoning sacrifice in his hands and went in. The curtain of the temple, which he could not go through unless he carried the blood of the atonement, symbolized the divide between God and humans. Because people have sin, they could not approach a holy God without a sacrifice for the atonement of sin. The curtain stands for that.

13. But that curtain was torn, it says. As [the text] has "From top to bottom it tore in two," God himself tore it apart. The time, during which was used the pattern [known] as the blood of animal sacrifices to atone for sin, had ended; because the true sacrifice was slain. Many times until now, they had probably seen sacrificial animals for the atonement screaming to death a bloodied mess. But the atonement sacrifice, which God himself had finally prepared, lifted [his voice] with a scream, saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?," and then [he] died. And then God himself with his own hands tore the curtain and opened the way for every person to obtain forgiveness of sins and approach God.

14. Then the bodies of the dead came back to life. What is being expressed by those words is "the victory over death." Please pay attention to the fact that this is written along with the curtain being torn. [We] cannot separate the victory over death and the forgiveness of sins. Please ponder this with me. After you die, if you could leave the grave again, would that be a victory over death? Or, would it be a victory over death if we suppose that you never die but just live on and on for ever? No, it would surely mean a hell. What we really need is forgiveness of sin, to be restored to fellowship with God. Without that, nothing could ever amount to a victory over death. If we're only just leaving [our] graves, the days of suffering would only prolong. I still remember persons with whom I have prayed while on their sick beds and some of them have passed on. When a person comes to the very end of his or her life, neither wealth nor fame has great meaning. Nor do luxurious banquets have meaning. What a person needs in order to ultimately subject death to victory is the cross of Christ, and the message that "Your sins are forgiven" which God graciously declares, and that the divide between God and person be taken away.

15. Jesus was a powerless messiah on the cross. But in the extremity of that powerlessness, he accomplished the work of salvation which was most necessary for us. The Lord, as a powerless king, was ridiculed by sinners and abandoned by God. The purpose of that was so that we, sinful as we are, do not become abandoned persons. Therefore, Paul expresses this event as follows. "God made the one who had nothing to do with sin sin for us. We have been able to obtain the righteousness of God through that one," (Second Corinthians 5:21). Because of this truth, the scripture is calling out to us even now. "I urge you in Christ's place. Receive reconciliation with God!," (Second Corinthians 5:20).