Scripture: Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them 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. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 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!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Matthew 27:45-56 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, the Romans found a man of Cyrene named Simon and compelled him to carry Jesus’ cross. When they arrive at Golgatha, soldiers nail Jesus’s wrist to the horizontal beam and cross and spike his overlapping ankles to the vertical timber. The Roman soldiers then offer Jesus a drink of wine mixed with bitter gall, which he tastes and then refuses. Matthew next notes another fulfillment of messianic prophecy when soldiers divide Jesus’ garments by casting lots (Psalm 22:18). And, unwittingly, the Romans post a sign above Jesus’ head stating Jesus’ criminal charge against Rome that ironically confirms he is the Messiah: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (v.37 ESV). Lastly, Matthew notes the robbers (insurrectionists, to be more accurate) next to him also lodge their insults. But as Luke tells us, one will have a change of heart.
Today’s reading narrates Jesus’ death. The sixth hour would indicate noontime, so a cloud darkens the sky from noon to 3 PM until Jesus cries aloud in Aramaic, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” —echoing the words of David’s messianic psalm (Psalm 22:1). Some of the onlookers, likely unfamiliar with Aramaic, mistake Jesus words of anguish as a cry to Elijah. Since Elijah did not die (taken to heaven in a whirlwind), Jewish tradition held he would come and rescue the righteous in their distress (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 2:930-31). Still, Jesus’ cry is not from physical pain but relational anguish (more said below). And as Jesus cried out a second time, he yielded his spirit (succumbed to suffocation).
Matthew, while sparse on the last words of Christ, alone provides us an epilogue of two miraculous events following Jesus’ death: the tearing of the inner veil to the Holy of Holies (where the ark resided) and an earthquake that jolted open tombs from which resurrected bodies of saints traversed Jerusalem. And he tells of the first post-death conversions: a centurion and those with him who witnessed these supernatural occurrences. Lastly, Matthew reports that the women who traveled with and supported Jesus’ ministry vigilantly watched all unfold from afar.
Below are the four Gospels’ collective presentation of Jesus’ seven last words (statements) from the Cross, as often observed for reflection on Good Friday (ESV):
- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
- “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
- … he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” John 19:26–27
- “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” v.46 above
- “I thirst.” John 19:28
- “It is finished.” John 19:30
- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” Luke 23:46
Even though you are not reading this devotion on Good Friday, I encourage you to pause and let the weight of his last words speak to your heart.
Takeaway: As mentioned above, Jesus’ cry to his Father does not express physical pain but relational anguish. For the first and only time in eternity, Jesus experiences an existential disconnect from his Father when he bears our sins in his body as a substitutional sacrifice (since the Father cannot draw near the presence of unatoned sin). We mortal humans who struggle to love others as God loves us could never fully comprehend the agony of that moment when he felt the weight of the world’s sins without the comforting presence of his Father. But imagine being wrongfully convicted of someone else’s capital crime, and you’re minutes away from execution, but the person you love most, who has been a rock for you throughout your life, is nowhere to be found. Then intensify those feelings a thousandfold, and perhaps we might begin to understand Christ’s cry of forsakenness.
But that’s not the story’s end. Matthew depicts two events that prove Jesus triumphed over Satan and completed his mission. How so? First and foremost, Jesus’ substitutionary death ensured us free access to our Father. The veil is torn asunder, for Christ, the Lamb of God, is the final sacrifice for our sins and the new temple for our worship. But there are looming implications for Israel. The next generation who continues to rely on the temple cult to aid in seeking favor with God through the law will witness the fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier prophecy of the temple’s destruction in 70 CE. And to this day, all that remains are segments of its foundation. If only they had placed their hope in the Cornerstone.
Secondly, the seismic waves point to a paradigm shift—a new era: the Inauguration. Jesus inaugurated his kingdom on earth in this age of the “now but not yet.” And he will usher in his final era (the Consummation) when he returns. Indeed, as the author of Hebrews tells us, Christ’s voice will once again shake the earth (as he did on this Good Friday) and the heavens when he returns (Hebrews 12:25-27).
Lastly, while Jesus refused the temptation to verify his deity by coming down from his cross, his resurrected saints mobilized as walking billboards to prove to a nation that demanded signs that Jesus is the Messiah. Indeed, his resurrected saints “tremored” the city, signaling the Son of God would soon unleash the ultimate “shockwave” that has circumnavigated the world: his resurrection! (More to come on that subject in the coming days.)
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who bore the anguish of being forsaken so that he might triumph over Satan and sin’s death sentence and thus bring new life to all his saints. Truly, we are eternally grateful for his and your sacrifice—albeit we cannot fully comprehend the extent of it. So would you help us be more reflective of the Passion of Christ and his and your extravagant and costly love for us so that we might joyfully and courageously carry on the work of these first resurrected saints? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling