25/8/02 10.30 a.m. Matthew 27:45-56 (Hebrews 10:19-25)
45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him." 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
Early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic began to block off East Berlin and the GDR from West Berlin by means of barbed wire and antitank obstacles. Streets were torn up, and barricades of paving stones were erected. Tanks gathered at crucial places. The subway and local railway services between East and West Berlin were interrupted. Inhabitants of East Berlin and the GDR were no longer allowed to enter West Berlin, amongst them 60,000 commuters who had worked in West Berlin until then. In the following days, construction workers began replacing the provisional barriers by a solid wall.
The border between West Berlin and East Berlin and the GDR had a total length of 103miles/166 km, and there was a deeply staggered system of barriers. Finally, the border area was described in this way: First, there was a wall which was made up of concrete segments with a height of 13 feet/4 m, usually with a concrete tube on top of it. Behind it (on the "eastern" side) there was an illuminated control area (also called death area). Refugees who had reached that area were shot without warning. A trench followed to prevent vehicles from breaking through. Then there was a patrol track, a corridor with watchdogs, watchtowers and bunkers, and a second wall.
Up to an estimated 940 people died trying to escape, 270 of them cut down by East German guards, according to German prosecutors. Others drowned or died jumping from buildings. During the wall's early days, dramatic escape scenes played out daily along Bernauer Street, where fronts of buildings formed the border with the West. Dozens of East Germans jumped from windows before they were bricked -- sometimes with fatal results. Eventually, the buildings were destroyed.
On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, restrictions between the two Berlins were lifted. Celebrations around the world culminated with Germany being reunified as one country on Oct. 3, 1990.
When Jesus died the massive, thick curtain in the temple in Jerusalem ripped in two. This curtain sealed off the Most Holy Place. No one except the high priest was allowed into the presence of God in that Most Holy Place. And then only once a year, on a special day. The author of Hebrews ( 10:19-20 ) looked on the miraculously torn curtain as symbolic: it signified a breaking through the barrier of sin that separates people from God, granting immediate access to God the Father through Jesus' death.
How was this possible? Since the fall of Adam, something we looked at on July 7th, people have been separated from God, who is perfect and cannot tolerate sin, by their own sinfulness. Under the Old Covenant the blood of perfect animals had to be repeatedly shed to pay the price for someone's sins.
Under the New Covenant the blood of the perfect Son of God was shed once and for all to pay the price of the sins of all who trust in him.
Darkness descended on the land from noon until 3:00 p.m. symbolising the spiritual darkness that Jesus was encountering for the only time in his existence. He voluntarily took upon himself the punishment for the sins of the world, which was separation from God the Father. That is why he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This wasn't a question that Jesus needed answering, more an illustration of the desolation and bereavement that he felt.
In verses 41-44 the chief priests, the teachers of the law the elders and the robbers all mocked Jesus by suggesting he save himself. Jesus could have done this, but it was not God's will. Jesus had come to save others at his own expense. This was all part of God's pre-ordained plan. The deliberate nature of Jesus' death can be seen in the way he died, 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
The wall of sin had never been breached by anyone, it was impossible for anyone to cross. The breaking down of the wall of sin heralded a new era of humankind's relationship with God. The unjust, cruel and painful death of one man led to freedom for many.
Many of us can remember the scenes of joy when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, how families and friends were reunited after over 28 years of separation.
How much more can we, as believers in Jesus be filled with joy at the freedom that is ours in Christ and the reconciliation that this brings with God and our fellow human beings? This affects our lives today, and our eternal destiny. The breaking open of the tombs and the resurrection of some righteous people illustrates the certain resurrection hope of every believer.
The N.I.V. translation gives a confusing account of what happened. The J.B. Phillips translation is clearer. "The ground shook, rocks split and graves were opened. A number of bodies of holy men who were asleep in death rose again. They left their graves after Jesus' resurrection and entered the holy city and appeared to many people."
Matthew mentions this here, out of chronological order, to show that the death of Jesus will result in the resurrection and redemption of all who have trusted in God, even those who had lived before Jesus but looked forward to God's salvation ( cf. Hebrews 11 ).
Jesus has overcome sin and death. Those who follow him can be free from the power of sin in their lives today. Those who follow him can be free from the consequence of sin today, enjoying a right relationship with God in this life. Those who follow Jesus can be free from the fear of death because Jesus will return one day, and all believers will be united with God and one another in eternity.
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.. ...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character; I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.... When we let freedom ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of Gods children, black men and white men., black sisters and white sisters, Jews and Gentiles. Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last.!.! Thank God almighty we are free at last." Martin Luther King
We have looked at the way that Jesus' death removed the barrier of sin and death. Jesus death also opened the way to God for every believer of every race, sex and colour. Matthew conveys this by recording two groups of people who witnessed the crucifixion. Firstly...
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" The centurion probably did not have a full understanding of the expression 'Son of God' compared to the way you or I would use this expression. Being a Roman he would be used to the worship of many gods, so he might be referring to Jesus as a divine being just as Caesar was considered divine. However, the soldier could have been familiar with the Jewish faith and used these words knowing their Messianic meaning. Clearly the darkness, Jesus conduct on the cross, and the earthquake led to him using these words out of fright and, perhaps wonder.
Whatever the centurion really meant Matthew records his words to show that Jesus, the promised Messiah is revealed in his death. The Jewish religious leaders should have recognized Jesus from the Scriptures they claimed to know and revere, but they are shamed in their blindness by a Roman soldier.
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
Women, who were regarded as second class citizens. Soldiers who were regarded as foreigners to be despised or, at best tolerated until the Messiah would come and defeat them. Not the type of people who had the expected credentials of those who would be followers of the Messiah and righteous in God's sight.
To the Galatians, who had false teachers informing them that you needed faith in Christ and adherence to the Old Testament law, Paul wrote, 3 : 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The good news of Jesus is for everybody and anybody. No one is too good not to need it. No one is too unworthy to receive it. We should not discriminate against anyone because we are all made in the image of God, and he chooses all types of people. People who do not speak English, people with different colour skin, even people from outside Great Britain!
Soldiers and women were not highly regarded in Jesus' day. The women were at a distance, maybe out of timidity or modesty. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to look after him. The cross would not be a barrier to them continuing to do this. They were the last at the cross, the first to the tomb. This illustrates what Paul wrote about.
1 Corinthians 1:26 Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
Are we clever, powerful, upper class, strong? No. But we are chosen by God, not so we can be proud about this, but to give the glory to God. Knowing that we have been chosen by God brings us incredible security, rather than having to earn our way to God, constantly wondering if we have done enough.
Watchman Nee tells about a new convert who came in deep distress to see him. "No matter how much I pray, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot seem to be faithful to my Lord. I think I'm losing my salvation." Nee said, "Do you see this dog here? He is my dog. He is housetrained; he never makes a mess; he is obedient; he is a pure delight to me. Out in the kitchen I have a son, a baby son. He makes a mess, he throws his food around, he fouls his clothes, he is a total mess. But who is going to inherit my kingdom? Not my dog; my son is my heir. You are Jesus Christ's heir because it is for you that He died."
We are Christ's heirs, not through our works but by means of His grace.
Diana Nyad, American Swimmer. "I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often-painful process."
Jesus went through the pain barrier of a barbaric painful death and endured separation from God. He has been through the pain barrier for you, me and every sinful human being.
God has broken the barriers of sin, death and race through the undeserved gift of the death of his only son.
Let us thank God for his wonderful gift.
Let us share this good news with everyone, however good or bad they might appear.
Let us rededicate our lives afresh, or even for the first time, in joyful gratitude, inspired by his Holy Spirit.