A Death that Brings Life: Matthew 27:45-56


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For the past three episodes, we have focused in on Jesus’ final moments on the cross, using Mark, Luke, and John’s gospels. For this episode, let’s look at the moment Jesus takes His last breath from Matthew’s gospel, and discover an event that only Matthew includes and an event that would make this weekend stand out in history as completely unique.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 45, Matthew tells us that:

45 At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 47 When some of the people standing there heard him say that, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 One of the men ran at once, took a sponge, and soaked it in some vinegar. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink. 49 The others said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 Then Jesus loudly cried out once again and gave up his life.

51 Suddenly, the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split open. 52 The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many holy people who had died came back to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after he had come back to life, and they went into the holy city where they appeared to many people.

54 An army officer and those watching Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things happening. They were terrified and said, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee and had always supported him. 56 Among them were Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Did you catch the crazy detail that Matthew includes? While other gospel writers include the detail that the temple curtain rips in two, from top to bottom, only Matthew includes the detail that there was an earthquake right at the moment of Jesus’ death and that this earthquake resulted in the resurrection of many holy people.

We can speculate that the holy people who were raised were many of the Old Testament prophets, but really the text doesn’t give us any clue. All we know is that those raised were holy, or righteous, people who had died.

All this brings to focus an amazing truth: Jesus’ death brings life. Jesus’ death on the cross opens the way for all those who have died believing in and trusting Jesus to be raised to life when He returns.

However, this isn’t the only thing we can see that is amazing during the moment Jesus died. Matthew describes how an army officer, along with others present, were terrified during the earthquake, and at the resurrection of these people, this officer proclaimed that, “Certainly, this was the Son of God!” (v. 54)

Luke’s gospel describes this officer praising God and declaring that Jesus was indeed innocent. This is also powerful, given that this officer would have been present for plenty of deaths, crucifixions included, and nothing like this had happened before.

It’s also interesting to think that both thieves were still alive when Jesus died, so they would have experienced the earthquake as well and perhaps even seen some of those who were resurrected.

In this passage, we discover that the temple curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was split in two, specifically from top to bottom. While this would have occurred at the same time as the earthquake, I wonder if both were connected in any way beyond simply being two things that happened at the exact moment Jesus died.

We’ve already seen how the earthquake was connected with the holy people who were resurrected, but the temple curtain tearing is included in other gospels without the earthquake or the resurrections. Both Mark and Luke include the detail that the curtain was split in two and they do this without connecting this detail to an earthquake – which might mean that the curtain tearing from top to bottom was more significant than a group of dead people returning to life.

So then, what is so significant about this curtain split?

In the temple, there was a space where only one person, the High Priest, could go, and he could only go there one time a year. In this space, which is called the Most Holy Place, was the Ark of the Covenant, and formed into the lid of the ark was a special place called the mercy seat. The mercy seat represented God’s throne and the place where He sits in judgment. It’s worth noting that the place God sits in judgment is characterized and described with the term mercy.

A thick curtain separated the Most Holy Place and God’s presence from the rest of the temple because God’s Holiness consumes and destroys sin, and as sinners, we would be consumed because of our sins. The entire temple on earth shows us God’s desire to live among His people while also protecting them from His presence.

However, when Jesus died, the temple curtain tearing in two symbolized the end of the separation. The curtain now open symbolized that sinners can come before God and ask for forgiveness because Jesus’ sacrifice covers their sins. God’s justice and justness has not changed; God simply took the punishment we deserved and handed it to Jesus, who was able and willing to accept it.

The curtain ripping in the temple is one of the biggest literal and symbolic events that prove Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted by God. If the temple curtain had not split, Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been enough to end the separation between God and His people, and the hope we have in Jesus’ sacrifice allowing us to come before God would be in vain.

At the darkest part in history, while Jesus is dead, the curtain that split in two marks an accepted sacrifice and an accepted sacrifice is a hope and promise we can hold on to when we face dark places in our lives. Even if our faith is weak and people want to discount Jesus’ life, His death, and His resurrection, remember that God validated it all by ripping the temple curtain into two pieces, from top to bottom, which is something no human could do.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. If you stumble and feel as though you have failed God, remember that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf, and that He is more than willing to forgive you and accept you back when you come and ask. Because the temple curtain was torn in two, we know Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted, and because Jesus’ death caused holy people to live again, we can know that His death assures us of life – and it makes our promise of eternal life a reality we can count on!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and be challenged by the Holy Spirit personally. While other people can give you ideas to think about, never let your relationship with God depend on someone else. Intentionally keep your connection with God strong through continual prayer and regular Bible study.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 47: At the moment Jesus died, Matthew records two amazing events occurred. Discover what these two events were, and what they mean for us living 2,000+ years later.

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