16 Aug 2020

The Meaning Of Jesus’ Death [Matthew 27:45-56]


Jesus died. But it is not a pointless death. It is a death with tremendous implications for you and for me. This sermon helps to make practical for you what the death of Jesus means. Discover how your hope and joys, your purpose and vision of life can all change because He died!


Sermon Transcript

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A very good morning to all of you and welcome to Gospel Light Christian Church. Thanks for joining us on this Sunday worship service. We are looking at the book of Matthew, and this has been a long journey.

We began in December 2016. So this is three plus years since we first begun and I'm glad to tell you we are coming to the end of our journey here very, very soon. We are going to finish up chapter [sic: 26] … 27 today and then we have two more sermons to go in Matthew chapter 28. And then that will be the end of this long journey.

It has been a blessing for me. I think one of the, one of the privileges of being a preacher, a pastor, is that I get to go first hand into the Word of God and to glean precious lessons for my own soul. I hope that it has been a blessing to you. And thanks for hanging around for so long and I pray that God will continue to build us up according to His Kingdom values as shown, and as we have learned in the book of Matthew.

Now, right after this, we will have a new series, and it will be a series again about a Bible book. And because, we in our church, have a value, have a practice of teaching both the New Testament and the Old Testament. We do not want to shun the Old Testament, as if it is difficult or irrelevant, it is the precious Word of God! We would then switch to an Old Testament book. You say, “Which one?”

Well, because Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, we are going to Genesis as it is the first book of the Old Testament. So Genesis is also a long book, it's about 50 chapters long. But I want to assure you, right from the start, that it is not going to be such a long journey.

Though there are 50 chapters in Genesis, I've estimated, I've worked at it, we are going to take about 56 weeks to cover Genesis. Not … not in a sense, short-changing you, but that's what it would take for us to go through the whole book of Genesis. So that will be about a year. There are 52 weeks or so in a year, so we are going to take about a year or so to finish looking at the book of Genesis. So that's exciting for me. I hope it will be something you look forward to, and I hope you will join us then.

Alright, with all that said, let's come to the sermon this morning. And we are looking at Matthew, chapter 27, about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now last week, we looked at how Jesus was tortured. He was spat. He was punched. He was abused. He was mocked and He was scourged and crucified.

Today, we're going to see more. We're going to see how He is going to die. Jesus hung on the cross from 9am to 3pm. From 9am to 12pm noon, everyone could see what He was going through. But from 12pm to 3pm, it is as if God now, closed the curtains and we cannot see what Jesus will have to go through.

So for 9am to 12pm, it is as if man threw everything he could at Jesus Christ. From 12pm to 3pm, God would deal directly with His Son. So from 12 to 3, there is a complete darkness that covered the land.
And so what He went through was, in a sense, a mystery. But I would say that what Jesus had to go through at the hands, at the direct hands of the Father, at God Himself, was more painful than we could ever imagine.

We see straightaway in verse 45, “Now from the sixth hour …”, the Jews count their time from 6am. So 7am will be the first hour and the sixth hour will be 12pm, “… there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” So there's something miraculous that took place here.

“And at about the ninth hour …”, at 3pm, “… Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”, that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” [Matt 27:46] Now, for 9am to 12pm, even though Jesus suffered a lot, we never hear Him utter a word to complain, or to express His agony.

But at the end of that three hours of darkness, He cried out. And the agony that He is crying out is not so much about the nails, about the scourge, about the dehydration, about the mocking from men, but it is about this - why God have You forsaken Me?

This is unimaginable for people like us. You see, the Son, Jesus Christ had always been in this joyful, delightful, loving communion with the Father. But now as our sin bearer on the cross, He's alienated from the Father. And He feels the deep agony and pain of his soul, crying out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

This is a direct quote, friends, from Psalm 22. And He's crying out the agonies of His soul. This is the cup of suffering, He would have to drink. So the sufferings of Jesus, please do not just minimize it to be the physical sufferings of the cross. Not just the emotional sufferings of the mocking of the people around Him. Far more is that spiritual suffering, of the alienation from God.

For the first time, Jesus in the Gospels, would call God, not as the Father, but only as God. Because now He is our sin bearer, suffering that alienation. “And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” [Matt 27:47] Because He said, “Eli, Eli.” So they say, “Oh! He must be calling Elijah.”

Why would they have this connection? Perhaps it's because they have read their Old Testament, Malachi 4:5 that says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”

So they are probably at this stage, mocking Jesus. In verse 49, “The other said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” “Hah! hah! He's calling Eli. He's calling Elijah because he thinks God will send Elijah to save Him.” I think that's probably what they are saying. The bystanders are mocking Jesus, “No one's going to come to save you! You're calling out for Elijah. Well, let's see whether he comes to Your rescue.” So even at the last hour, they are still mocking Him.

“And one of them …”, one of the soldiers, “… at once, ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink.” [Matt 27:48] So, He actually early on said, “I thirst.” And so, someone took that reed with a sponge, dipped it in sour wine, lifted it up to Jesus on the cross, to allow Him to drink.

And after He had drunk, probably so dehydrated, so dry that He could not speak well. He knows it, He drinks of it. And so now, “He cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His Spirit.” [Matt 27:50]
So Matthew tells us, “With this loud voice, He cried out and He gave up His life.” What did He say? Matthew doesn't record it for us, but John did. John [19:30] told us, “When He had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.””

He is to proclaim, He is to declare that this is over. In the Greek, it means - fully paid. Saying Jesus on the cross, was not there because of his own fault, but He was there to perform a role, He was there to pay a debt. A debt of sin that sinners owe to God. And so He had to say it, He had to let everyone know, this is why He was there on the cross. “It is finished.” And therefore He drank of that sour wine.

Now, some of you might notice earlier on, Jesus was offered a drink that was mixed with gall as a kind of anesthetic. He will not bear it, He will not take it, but only after the sufferings, He will now have the drink in order to be able, to shout out with a loud voice, "It is finished.”

He also said, “Father, into Your hands, I commit My Spirit! [Luke 23:46] No one took His life from Him, He laid down His life. And after He had said, “It is finished,” “Father into Your hands, I commit My Spirit. He breathed His last, and He died.” [Luke 23:46]

So the question for us is, we now know Jesus died, but what's the meaning of His death? What's the significance of it all? I think this is so clear, so straightforward. But still, I think it is worth all of us just reminding ourselves, how consistently the New Testament speaks about the death of Jesus. That it was not his fault. There was no guilt or crime that He Himself deserved. It was not for his own mistakes that He died, but it was for us that He died because over and over again, verses in the Bible tell us so.

1st Corinthians 15, verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” He did not die because He was blasphemous. He did not die because He wanted to be a rebel. He died as our Savior. He died for our sins. “He bore our sins in His body on the tree.” [1 Peter 2:24] “Christ also has suffered for sins.” [1 Peter 3:18] “He sent His Son …”, God sent His Son “to be the atonement for our sin.” [1 John 4:10] He was made a curse for us. [Gal 3:13]

So Jesus died on the cross, to pay for the sins of those who would believe on Him. And therefore, after the sufferings, at the hands of men, and at the hands of God, the Father, He would cry out, “It is paid. It is fully paid.” So Jesus died to save you and me from our sins.

See, that's the only way we could be forgiven. God has to judge sin, otherwise, there will be an eternal and universal scandal throughout the whole universe. If God were to just simply let sinners enter His presence, for all eternity, people, angels would be saying, “Look at this God! He's so unjust. He's so unrighteous. We are sinners, you are sinners and you still are allowed to commune with Him. There is no righteousness with God.”

But God is inflexibly righteous. He must judge sin. So in order for us to be saved, for us to be freed, for us to be healed, for us to be reconciled with God, He chose to judge our sins on His own Son. That's why Jesus went to the cross, so that God might be both just and the justifier of sinners.

The only way God can justify sinners and still be just, is when he judges that sin on His own Son. So we are saved, we are forgiven because of Jesus and His love and His death on the cross. But some of you may then say, “Well! What does that really mean? What impact would that have in my life?” I think it's helpful to go on in a narrative here in Matthew, to see that implication from the narrative here.

We read in verse 51, “And behold …”, in other words, whatever you're looking at right now, look here, behold, pay attention, something's going to happen. And it's of great value for your soul, if you understand it, for your understanding. Look at this! Behold … Behold what? “… The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Besides this, look on, “The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep …” That's a euphemistic, a nice way of saying those who have died, “… were raised and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” [Matt 27:52-53]

So there are two things, I'd like you to see. One, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Two, there are those who are resurrected to life. So let's see, first of all, the curtain of the temple being torn into from top to bottom.

This is a message that says, “There is now no more separation. There is now no more barrier between God and men.” That's the idea! You see, right from the beginning in the Bible, man had perfect communion with God. But when they sinned against God, they were chased out of the Garden of Eden. It was a symbol of saying, “They were chased out of the blessed communion with God.”

Now, the gates are shut, the door is locked, the angels guard with a flaming sword, you can never come back here, because you are now sinful. So sinful men has been cut off from God. And in the Bible, you read this motif, this idea of barriers, barriers, barriers, obstacles that hinder man from coming to the True and Living God.

It's also seen, for example, at Mount Sinai. At the giving of the 10 commandments, there was shaking, there was smoke, thick dark smoke. There was a sound of a trumpet, it was a scary sight. And God said to the people of Israel, “Don't come up the mountain. There are barriers. You can't draw near to Me.”

And then we read of the Tabernacle, that dwelling, that special dwelling place of God with Israel. And if you look at the Tabernacle, they are fences, they are walls, they are barriers. The idea again is - sinful men cannot come to God on their own. You have no access to God.

And of course, this was improved upon in the Temple. But the Temple, which is roughly structured after the pattern of the Tabernacle, communicates the same truth. There are barriers. There are barriers. There are barriers. There are barriers.

In particular, in the Temple and in the Tabernacle, there's a very special place, called, ‘The Holy of Holies’, you might see it in this picture. The picture on top is a picture that you should appreciate from top down. And then the picture at the bottom is when you look at it from the side.

You can see on the left side of your picture, there is this ‘Holy of Holies’. It's a very special place that is reserved only for the Great High Priest to enter once a year. Because the Holy of Holies symbolizes the unique presence of God. But the Holy of Holies is very exclusive, only as I've mentioned, to the high priest, once a year with animal sacrifices and blood.

And this place is separated from everywhere else, by this curtain. This curtain, I've highlighted in red. So it is a symbol that says, “No access. Restricted area. Trespassers will be prosecuted.” That's the idea! So when on that day, Jesus died, and the curtain was torn in two, something symbolic has taken place.

God is saying, “By this very visible manifestation, that there are now no barriers, that there is now access to God.” And by the way, this access is opened up not by men, but by God because this curtain is torn from the top down, not from the bottom up.

Now you say, “What's so special about that?” Well, you understand that it is special, if you know how big this curtain is. This curtain is said to be some 18 meters tall, 30 meters wide and 10 centimeters thick. It is such a heavy structure that it takes some 300 priests to set it up. So this is big! And I don't think anyone will be able to tear the curtain from the top by himself.

So the fact that God and Matthew writes it for us, that this curtain was torn from the top to the bottom, is an indication this is a divine act, this is a divine message. The barrier between God and man is now opened because of what Jesus has done, because He has suffered and died, because He has paid for your sins. Man is now no more, having to be separated from God but we can be reconciled with Him. We can draw near to Him. We can have access to Him.

I'm not over reading this, because Hebrews, chapter 10:19-20, absolutely bases on this scene to communicate the access Christians have to the Father, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the New and Living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is through His flesh.” So because of what Jesus has done, we now have access to God.

What an amazing reality! Do you know that your salvation … Do you know that the Christian salvation is not about healing from some skin disease or some cancers, is not about God blessing my business so that I have money. Oh no! The message of salvation is far more than that, is grander than that. Please don't cheapen it to be a ‘Health and Wealth ‘gospel’’.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about access to God, reconciliation with God, coming to God. That God is now my God, and I am His child. That I'm forgiven. That I can pray. That I can seek Him. That I'm loved. And that there's no more separation. That is the Gospel! That's what Jesus came to the cross to do, so that we are no more alien, strangers, enemies of God, but we are adopted and loved. We have access. That's what salvation is!

Remember the Gospel definition we have in this church. What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of Jesus Christ, dying and rising to save us from our sins in order to reconcile sinful men to the Holy God.” The curtain is torn in two.

One night, my wife and I, we were sleeping in our bedroom. And then suddenly, we hear our bedroom door creaked open. Real story, alright, real story. We … we hear the bedroom door creaked open and we hear the shuffling of some footsteps. We wondering what's happening! And then before we know it, there was a kind of a spring on our bed, because something came on to our bed. And it came right in between my wife and I. Then we turned around and we saw that it was our son, Matthias.

And you know what, we went on to sleep. We did not scold him. We did not rebuke him. We just let him be. You say, “Why?” You know why? Because he's my son, he's our son. Our son has perfect access to where we are. There are no barriers. He would not be reprimanded because he comes to us. And that's the joy of the child of God.

You know, when I read the book of Hebrews, how we can come boldly to the throne of grace. It speaks about access. It speaks about barriers broken down. What amazing grace that we as sinners can now come to the Living God.

And it's not because of what we have done, or what we can ever do, we can never achieve this or deserve this, but it's because of Jesus. How He shed His blood. How His body was broken for us. When you remember the cross, remember that with His death, there's a way opened up for us. And now you can have access. Now, you can have prayer. Now, you can seek Him, know Him, enjoy Him, commune with Him in word and prayer.

And the Bible says, “This is the new and living way.” [Hebrews 10:19] This is the new way. Why? Because in the time past, the Jews had the Old Covenant, the old rituals of sacrificing animals. Actually all that could do was to remind them that they are sinners. But Jesus is that new and living way, He's the ultimate way. He's the way, the truth and the life. And we can now come to the Father, because of His finished work on the cross.

How amazing that 3pm when Jesus died, it was the time for the evening sacrifices for the Passover lamb also to be sacrificed. You see, Jesus has been designated by God to be that Passover Lamb, to save us from our sins, that we might be reconciled with Him.

Together with Hebrews 10, I share with you Hebrews 6:19-20, it says, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” See! This is again access. We have a hope! Jesus is our hope. And Jesus enters beyond the curtain to the presence of God. And because of what Jesus has done, we today, as the Bible says, can have hope.

I want to say, that, “When you are reconciled with God, there is great hope.” There's a great hope of how things will always be beautiful, will eventually and always be beautiful, and perfect and joyous. Now, I want you to know that this is not saying that your life here, will be smooth and easy and be like a bed of roses. Nope! It does not promise that!

Nowhere in the Bible does God say that, “Your life on earth will be trouble free.” In fact, if you believe in Jesus, you may have more troubles because the world hates you. But the promise and the understanding of hope, is that eventually in the new life to come, it will be far, far better than what we ever imagined. And it is this assurance of the eternal life to come, that gives us stability and peace in a troubled world.

And that's why he says, “This is the anchor of the soul.” [Hebrews 6:10] You may be tossed to and fro in the storms of life. In this COVID-19 situation, you might have job loss, you might have diseases, you may have mental troubles, you may have family breakups. There are lots of trouble in this world, you have no peace, in a sense around you. But the anchor of the soul is believing that Jesus will secure for us a better future and eternal life in the Eternal City that is to come and it gives me peace in the midst of a storm.

I've been to Rome for holiday before and one of the places we visited was, “The Catacombs”. “What is The Catacombs?”, you say. They are actually underground tunnels and living spaces that Christians carved out when they were being persecuted for their faith. They could not live above the ground because they will be killed. So they had to find means to survive by digging tunnels and connections and havens, underground called, “The Catacombs”.

And if you go to The Catacombs, you would see a lot of pictures, symbols that look like this. You would see this anchor. You see that? And fish? You say, “What's the fish and what's the anchor?” Well, I would say, “The anchor refers to Hebrews, chapter 6, which you have just read. The anchor of the soul. It refers to hope. But this anchor is connected to the fish because the fish is a symbol of Jesus Christ.”

“Ah! Fish is a symbol of Jesus?” Yes! Because when you write the word fish in the Greek, it is written in such a way that it is pronounced – Ichthus. The various letters of the Greek alphabet, would give you the acronym - Jesus Christ, God, Son, Savior.

So it became a secret code for Christians underground, to identify if a stranger, a visitor is also a follower of Jesus. They would probably draw either up stroke or the down stroke of the fish. And if you're able to complete it, you're saying, “You understand the symbolism of the fish, that you acknowledge, you confess, you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He's our Savior.”

So all that to say, Ichthus refers, or the symbol of the fish is a reflection of Jesus Christ, and the hope of the Church underground is found in Jesus Christ. Because He enters the holy places for us, having broken down the curtain, by His body and by His blood.

So, we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul - a hope. I want to encourage you today, what does Jesus' death on the cross mean for you? It means that you're no more alienated from God. It means you're loved by God. It means you have access to God. You can pray to God, He hears you, He loves you. And because you are reconciled with Him, God is always going to work all things together for good to them that love you.

You may go through the troubles of this life, but it will work out for your ultimate good and you have eternal joy, satisfaction and glory that is to come. What a message! What a message that God is saying, “Behold! No more alienation for those who believe in My Son. The curtain is torn in two. You have free access to me.” There is hope! So there is reconciliation.

But very quickly, I end also or I move on to the second event that Matthew says, “You've got to behold…”, and that is the resurrection. Very clearly – behold. “… The curtain was torn, and that the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep …”, those who had died, “…were raised.” [Matt 27:51-53] So with the death of Jesus, there was a resurrection from the dead.

Now, there are many questions people ask about these people who have resurrected. Do they have glorified bodies, and so on and so forth? Well, the Bible doesn't really tell us, did they die subsequently?
Well, the Bible didn't really tell us, so I think it's pretty much left to our speculation. But I believe probably, they were resurrected, like how I think, Lazarus was resurrected. And I suppose Lazarus would die ultimately, physically. And one day will receive that glorified body when Jesus returns. So this is my speculation, even though it is not explicit in this text.

But the point is this - with the death of Jesus, there was this earthquake and rock splitting, so that you know, that when the tombs are broken up, this is something connected to the finished work of Jesus Christ. And with the tombs being broken up, there are bodies being resurrected. And they waited in a sense till Jesus was resurrected before they enter the city and appear to many. Why? I suppose it's to honor the fact how Paul would say, “Jesus is the first fruit of those who will be resurrected.”

But the point is this - with the death of Jesus, we see that there is reconciliation with God, the curtain torn. With the death of Jesus, we see that there is resurrection to life. With His death, we are now given the gift of life. This is so consistent with what Jesus Himself said,” I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live.” [John 11:25]

Is it true? Oh yes! Because at the day Jesus died, the tombs were broken up and the dead were raised to life. And so, the death of Jesus was no accident. It was intentional! So that, “When this grain of wheat …”-, His life, “… falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24] It brings life to those who believe in Jesus.

Let me say this, “It is not just about physical resurrection in mind. I think, it is speaking about spiritual resurrection, having a new spiritual life.” Ephesians 2:1,4-5 tells you, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins, but God, being rich in mercy …”, and so on and so forth, “… made us alive together with Christ.”

Today, I am not yet dead, but I'm given new life, I'm resurrected to this spiritual life. Why? Because Jesus died for me. That's what it means! So you and I today, we are given this new spiritual life because of the finished work of Jesus.

How significant is this work of Jesus? He gave us access to God, hope and prayer. He gives us new life, a new understanding of God, a new passion for God, a new delight to obey His will. So today with this new life, with His death, “He died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for the sake, died and was raised.” [2 Cor 5:15]

So on this Lord's Day, let me remind you about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And let us be reminded that with this new life, with this resurrection of the soul, let us give ourselves to Him. Let us love the Father, because if we love the world, the love of the Father would not be in us.

I believe that's the meaning of the death of Jesus. Very simple, but very powerful imagery, given by Matthew. There is first a reconciliation with the Holy God. And there is a resurrection of life, of soul and of the Spirit.

I'm going to end by just with this one more observation. “When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake, and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” [Matt 27:54] There was something amazing about the death of Jesus.

Maybe the centurion and the soldiers were struck with how poised and calm and gracious Jesus was, when He hung on the cross. They must have seen lots of criminals just complaining and begging for mercy and cursing their day. But Jesus, no, He still spoke those words of love, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “Woman, behold Your Son.” “It is finished.”

And when he heard all that, he knew that this was no criminal, but truly, this was the Son of God. When he saw the earthquake, when you hear about the veil torn, maybe it registered in his head, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” There was something remarkable about the death of Jesus.

So whilst many, say and falsely accused Jesus of being a liar, a cheater, a criminal, a rebel, there are those who recognized the worth and supremacy of Jesus Christ. A gentile recognized that, a non-Jew could see it, and many women could see it. [Matt 27:55-56]

You know, this is so amazing! I believe at the end of this chapter, or at the end of our text here, God is almost saying, “The Jewish people, many of them do not recognize who My Son is, but there will be those who do. There'll be those who may be out of our expectation, like that Gentile soldier, or that group of ladies, they understand and they will worship My Son for who He is.”

My question to you this morning - would you recognize Jesus for who He is? He's not a lunatic. He's not a liar. He's the Lord who gave Himself to save you from your sin. He is the Lord who alone secured for you access to God, who gave you reconciliation with the Holy God, before whom you have sinned. He is the Savior who brings about new life, new soul, new hope. Would you today repent and believe? May God bless you. Let's bow for a word of pray together.

Father, we thank You so much as we come to this crucial message of the Bible, the Gospel. How Jesus Christ died and will rise again to save us from our sins, in order to reconcile sinful men to the Holy God. We pray this will not just be a statement we hear. This will not just be a message we kind of remember. But this will be a message we would repent and believe in.

O God! Open our eyes that we may see. Help people to understand, Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Help people come to this New and Living way. May You save souls, this morning.

Father, we praise You that there is hope for the Christian, not that life is always going to be smooth and easy. But there is a glorious hope of eternal life, eternal joy, eternal satisfaction to come. May we, for the joy that is set before us, also endure the cross and despise the shame, like Your Son did.

Teach us to follow Jesus well. Teach us to access the throne of grace by prayer. Teach us O God to live for You and not for the things of this world. Thank You again, dear Spirit of God for speaking to us. Bless all who are here today. We thank You and pray all this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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