The Triumph of the Cross (Mt. 27:45-51a)
In the Spring of 1997, I went to see a movie by myself. I know, it sounds pathetic doesn’t it? The experience was so awkward I never did it again. I had just been hired by Kinko’s and they sent me up to Walnut Creek for a few days of training. I did not know anyone who lived there, and since the other trainees were all from the area, I was by myself in the evenings.
I went out for dinner and then, on a bit of a whim, decided to see what was playing in the theaters. (This was before Siri and Google.) The only thing I remember about the movie was that it starred John Cusack. So I looked it up this morning. It was “Grosse Pointe Blank”. Honestly, it still doesn’t ring a bell.
I think I’ve blocked out that experience because Of how uncomfortable it was. I remember it being one of the first times in my life where I really felt alone. Apparently, I don’t do well in isolation. I’ve gotten better since then, but I still crave interaction.
Have you ever felt alone? I don’t mean socially distant. I mean isolated from everyone. Maybe that sounds like a good thing to some of you. Maybe you are the kind of person who enjoys going to movie theaters alone. I can understand the value of getting away from the noise of this world, but we really were not created for isolation.
We long for genuine fellowship and to belong to a community that knows, loves, and supports us. This is true because we’re created in the image of a triune God who has always enjoyed perfect fellowship within the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It’s one thing to be physically isolated from one everyone, but it is even more significant to think about isolation on a spiritual level. Jesus certainly suffered physically on the cross, but the spiritual reality was much worse than the physical reality.
Read Matthew 27:45-51
I. The Darkness of the Cross (45)
The crucifixion for many lasted multiple days. Jesus’ crucifixion lasted roughly six hours. According to Mark 15:25, the crucifixion began at the 3rd hour (9am). Darkness began at the 6th hour (12pm). Then, according to v.46, Jesus died about the 9th hour (3pm). This would have allowed 3hrs for his burial before sunset, when the Sabbath officially began.
We do not know the extent of this darkness. Was it merely over the land of Judea, or did it extend throughout the earth? Nor do we know for certain if this was a naturally occurring phenomenon. Some have suggested it could have been a heavy dust storm or cloud coverage. I think it was likely a supernatural occurrence that was limited to Judea in scope. Either way, God was doing something significant to show the spiritual darkness represented by the death of his Son.
The symbolism of darkness represents the judgment of God. It would recall the darkness that fell upon the land of Egypt for three days (Exod. 10:22) prior to Israel’s escape at the first Passover. An even better parallel is found in Amos 8:9-10, where God promises midday darkness so that celebrations will turn to mourning and lamentation.
There is a proper place for lamentation in worship, and it is sorely underserved in the church today. Psalm 22 seems to have been on the mind of Christ as he neared his final breath. That psalm can be broken down into two parts: lamentation (1-21) and thanksgiving (22-31). It is proper to practice both in the context of corporate worship. Thanksgiving doesn’t cancel out the lamentation. Lamentation anticipates thanksgiving.
Think about that in the context of the cross. What finally puts an end to the darkness? One might expect the light to return at the resurrection, but in fact, light returns immediately after his death. The darkness ended when Jesus defeated it at his death. In this sense, the cross of Christ is not only for sober reflection and mourning, but it also brings hope that light will shine again soon!
This hopeful sign comes at the peak of the world’s most tragic loss. Doesn’t that often exemplify how grace works in our own lives? In the midst of all of the tragedy and despair expressed in the world right now, God is renewing a sense of spiritual hope.There are signs of spiritual life, where it appeared to be only a valley of dry bones before. Let us continue to look to God. Let us call upon him to provide hope even as we continue to endure a season of darkness.
Ultimately, that darkness was felt most keenly by Jesus himself as he experienced…
II. The Isolation of the Cross (46-49)
The situation looked utterly hopeless. Above Him hung a sign that read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. It reminded everyone of the mockery Jesus endured at the hands of both Romans and Jews. Below him, the words of the scoffers mixed with the sounds of a few sobbing women. He was unrecognizable as He hung upon the cross. His face was swollen from the beating of countless soldiers. His back and legs were still dripping blood from the scourging He endured.
And as a pool of blood, sweat, and tears begins to gather beneath Him, for the first time, even Jesus sounds unsure of the situation. He cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some were confused, thinking he was calling upon Elijah to rescue him. But it is apparent to everyone, that Jesus is alone.
For the moment, it appears that evil had won. Jesus appeared defeated. It was just as the scoffers’ had said—he couldn’t save himself. Everyone had abandoned Jesus, including his Father.
Of the seven final sayings of Jesus, this one is the hardest to comprehend. Although we know it fulfills Psalm 22:1, we struggle to understand how the God-man could be separated from God in any way.
John White If I were coldly logical I could point out that Jesus knew the answer to his own agonized cry. He knew why. He had known during his earthly ministry. He had known with awful clarity in the Mount of Olives. His question is not a plea for intellectual understanding but an expression of agony that overwhelmed understanding.
“My God” unique address from Jesus who normally spoke to God as “my Father” (11:25, 26; 26:39, 42). It reflects his sense of abandonment. His feelings indeed match reality. The Father had “turned his face away” from the Son. Jesus experienced genuine anguish at that moment.
However, notice that he calls upon God as if he trusts that he can hear him. Jesus knows that God is listening to him. He doesn’t cry out, “God, if you’re there…” as we so often see in the movies. Nor does he allow his anguish to turn into threats against God. He doesn’t shout anything hateful toward God. Jesus is trusting God, rather than cursing him, for the cross.
Think about it, if Christ had lost all faith at this point, he wouldn’t have said anything. His declaration of anguish reveals his ongoing trust in God’s redemptive mission.
While Christ’s death was utterly unique, we often struggle with a sense of isolation. We have grown comfortable using that language these past few weeks, but in reality—our experience of isolation can be a lot worse than mere social distancing would suggest. For some, it develops into depression, or even panic.
In that despair we might question God’s goodness and faithfulness.
John White And while none of us will ever face what our Lord faced, we may find ourselves, even though we too know the answer to our own question, still crying, “Why?” We cry because our natures protest what is happening to us. We understand yet we do not understand, just as a nonswimmer “understands” that his body is lighter than water until he is thrown into a lake. So we struggle in desperation while the waters swirl round our souls, and the knowledge we possess seems powerless to prevent us from drowning.
Even then, our struggle is evidence that there is a seed of faith implanted deep within. The cry is a sign of the faith that remains, though hanging by a thread. At the end of this age, while looking back upon our darkest days, we will be in full agreement with Paul:
2 Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
God never leaves his covenant children. When it comes to spiritual isolation, what believers mistakenly sense Jesus truly experienced. It is because of the fact that Jesus was abandoned by the Father, that we can be assured we are always kept in the palm of his hand! God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).
It only makes sense when we understand…
The Atonement of the Cross (50-51a)
Jesus let out one final cry of anguish, probably, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Christ completed the work of redemption that he came to accomplish. Then “he yielded up his spirit” (50).
One of the glorious consequences of Christ’s death on the cross was the splitting in two of the temple curtain (51a). Not only did it split, but the curtain was torn from top to bottom. In other words, it was an act of God.
The curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the outer chamber where priests served daily. The high priest alone, would enter the Holy of Holies one day a year—on the Day of Atonement.
Christ’s death represents the final and true Passover Lamb. He entered into the Holy of Holies once for all, not with the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood securing our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).
With the death of Christ, everyone has access to God through faith in Christ. And we now have the assurance that Christ appears “in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24).
Because of sin, the Father had to turn his back on the Son. He had to look away as He poured out the fulness of His wrath upon Him. He could not respond to His Son’s cries. He could not comfort Him in the midst of His deepest and darkest hour.
On the cross, Jesus bore the full weight of the wrath of God in our place. Jesus suffered the pains of hell as he hung upon the cross. When he who knew no sin became sin for us, he experienced the unmitigated wrath of God. The punishments of hell include separation from God’s love.
That is the punishment that we deserved, but Jesus took that punishment in our place. This was why Jesus became a man. He took on flesh to ransom us.
Col 2:14-15 By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
God turned the shame of the cross into a display of his glory while turning the glory of man into open shame.
Though Jesus experienced darkness and isolation on the cross, it was the only path forward to make atonement for sins. Christ was not defeated on the cross, but triumphant. He fully accomplished the primary task that he was born to do.
Jesus was separated from His Father for a time so that we who believe might be adopted as Sons for eternity.