Posts Tagged ‘sacrificial death’

Matthew 27:45-56 (Part 3)

Jesus Dies on the Cross

In the movie, Armageddon, there is that darkest moment when Bruce Willis’ character, Harry Stamper, is left behind to detonate the nuclear weapon that they had planted deep in the asteroid. As the asteroid begins to slow down is 22,000 mph pace as it approaches the earth’s gravitational pull to maybe a mere 20,000 mph, all the associated debris trailing the asteroid starts flying past the main part of the asteroid, it does not seem that Harry’s going to be able to get the job done. It is really bad on the surface of the asteroid. Gas vents exploding. Debris flying everywhere. The ground shaking on the surface of the asteroid. But Harry Stamper, being the hero, that he is, cannot fail. He finally is able to regather himself and reach the button on the trigger and right before he pushes the button, he says, “We win, Gracie!” He was speaking of his daughter. If, in that moment, you do not shed tears as the nuclear bomb explodes and rips the asteroid in half, you have no heart. Harry Stamper sacrifices his own life to save billions of people on earth. The nuclear explosion sheers the asteroid in half causing the asteroid not to impact the earth and our planet is saved from an extinction level event. Back on earth, when everyone realizes that Harry’s bravery saved the planet, everyone is celebrating. Everyone except Gracie. She has mixed emotions. She and the rest of humanity would have died immediately upon impact of the earth-killing asteroid or would have died within a year afterward (the dust cloud that would have covered the earth would let no light in for two years or more before it cleared and thus all plant life, animal life, and human life would die within months of the impact). She has mixed emotions. Her own life and those of billions of people have been spared because of her dad’s willingness to do whatever it took but yet she grieves for the father that she loves so dearly but will never see again until the day she dies. It is a powerful ending to the movie. We know of the tumultuous but loving relationship that Gracie has with her dad but you know they love each other without end! Her tears for the loss of her while knowing at the same time her dad saved the planet is what I think of when I think of the physical reactions of the earth that we see at Jesus’ death. Let’s re-read the passage that is our subject today, Matthew 27:45-56 and concentrate on vv. 51-53:

 

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

 

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 staff, 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, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c] 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 Joseph,[d] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

 

Today, we look at all the weird geophysical events that took place at the moment of Jesus death. A lot of unusual stuff happened. Palestine, if not the whole earth, fell into darkness as if it were nighttime in the middle of the day. An earthquake occurs. The veil between the Holy Place in the Temple and the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the area of the Temple where God’s presence was said to have been on earth. This veil was no slim, thin curtain. It was heavy duty but it was ripped in half like it was a napkin. Further, the graves were said to give up the bodies of prophets.

 

If you think that this was literary license of the authors of Scripture, consider again. If you look at the sedimentary record in Palestine, particularly in the Dead Sea, geologists, as they can in any place on earth, tell you when earthquakes have happened in a given region, if any, by examining core drillings of the soil and layers of rock in the region. The geological evidence is there that shows that around 33AD there was an earthquake event in Palestine. Additionally, a historian name Thallus wrote in 52AD that the region had been thrown inexplicably into darkness during that time. Astrology had become sophisticated enough in certain societies by the first century that they could predict (not nearly as precisely as today) generally when eclipses of the sun would occur. However, this was an out of cycle eclipse which Thallus found frightening when you combine it with the earthquake that hit the region. With this historical, geological and extrabiblical references to these events, it bolsters the biblical account and, if these things happened then why not people rising from the grave. All of this weird stuff happened. Why?

 

Plain and simple to me. God had a Gracie complex. He was like Gracie in our movie illustration. Just as Gracie knew that humanity would not have survived without the sacrifice of her father’s life that he willingly gave up, yet she grieved. Without Harry’s sacrifice, humanity would not have survived. Yet, she lost her daddy. She lost the grandfather to her future children. She lost the man that loved her first, her daddy. She grieved but yet she was thankful that she could grieve. Without her dad’s sacrificial act, she would not be alive to grieve. In the same, God grieved when Jesus died on the cross. God grief is expressed through his creation. Creation moans at the death of Jesus Christ. All of creation moans. The sky is darkened. The earth shakes. God grieves at this moment. God knows that it had to be done. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we are doomed. It was necessary. It was necessary for this death to happen. The death tears the veil that separates us from God. The veil was there because of our sin. It had to be separated from the presence of God. The death ends the separation. It is through Jesus’ taking on God’s wrath and anger toward sin that reconciles us to God. Through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, we can now exist in the presence of God. It was necessary. But yet at the same time, God grieves over the necessity of it. God grieves over the sacrifice of His Son. He grieves. He knows that it was part of the plan and it had to be executed but still He grieves and it is expressed through His creation. For a moment, He suspends the normal operation of the physical laws of the universe that He created to grieve. In His grief over this nuclear explosion in the asteroid of man’s sin, God grieves over the necessity of sacrificing His Son. But The Father can whisper to the Son, “We win, Son! We win!”

 

We now have victory through God’s own hard fought sacrifice. We now have victory over the sin-filled creatures that we are. We win, Gracie. We Win. We now have reconciliation with the father. We Win, Gracie! We win! We now have direct access to the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. We live because He died. We Win Gracie! We win! We now stand in purity before God through the clothing of righteousness given to us through his sacrificial death. We Win Gracie! We win! We now have a second chance through His willingness to die for us! We Win Gracie! We win! … Amen and Amen!

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Romans 9:30-10:4 — Why is that when you put religion in man’s hands, we always screw it up?

The Jews of first century Palestine had become so married to the law that they failed to see to whom it pointed. Keeping the law was the most important thing. It was checklist religion to them. They had a worthy goal – to honor God. But they lost sight of God and Scripture in the process. They lost sight of the spirit of the law and of Scripture. They became more dedicated to the law than to God. They built layers and layers of regulations around the law itself so that they would come nowhere near actually breaking God’s law. There was a dizzying array of regulations. You had to be a scholar to keep up with it all. They also used it to separate the “good” people from the “bad” people. It was religion. It was about performance. I am better than you because I have not violated this law or regulation but you have. I have less demerits than you. Jesus was the Messiah, the completion of the law. They didn’t even notice. He was a giant boulder in the road but with their blinders on they did not see Him. The law itself had become their god not the God who gave them the law.

Have you ever known people like that in our day and age? If I do the right things! If I don’t do many bad things! If my good deeds outweigh my bad, then I will be OK. These are the unhappiest people in the world. There is such a great burden of trying constantly to do more good than bad that it leads to judging others for how we are in relation to them on the good-o-meter scale. We often think that if we keep “the law”, God will have to accept us and reject others who are not as good at keeping the law as we are. God will accept us if we just keep a running ledger of how much good we do in comparison to our bad. Ultimately, when we live this way, we are trying to control God. If I do this, then God will do that. We can make this faith thing into religion of do and don’t. Checklist Christianity. Can we not see? The Jews could not see that the Old Testament taught just as the New does that salvation comes by faith and faith alone. It does not and cannot depend on human effort (Gen 15:6).

The great rock that Paul speaks of in this passage is Jesus Himself. The Jews did not recognize Him as the one and only true Messiah because He did not match their expectations and He threaten the cult of the law that they had created. They, and sometimes we, want our relationship to be about what we can do to earn brownie points. We want to earn our way to God. It is the spiritual American Dream. With effort you can earn your way to God’s favor. With effort you can separate yourself from the pack. You can stand above others when it comes to God. Look what I did and what you didn’t! Do more. Be more. I am better than you. It is religion. Religion is man-made. And man it is very tiring to be religious. All the scorecards we have to keep! God does not want religion. God wants relationship.

People stumble over Christ because we are too busy keeping our checklists of the “right stuff” that we do. If we do more good than bad, maybe God will accept us. The law was created by God not for us to make it the center of our lives and our dizzying attempts to keep it. It was designed to open our eyes to the fact that we are utterly unable to keep the law 100% of the time for all our lives. The law was created to show us that we are condemned by its judgment. It was created to show us our desperate need for Jesus Christ as the covering that we need for our utter failure in the eyes of the law. Instead of reacting to it by making it checklist religion, it is intended to humble us that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. It is only when we are so humbled that we realize that we do not control our path to heaven by our own actions that we can come to God. Being humbled by the law leads us to see that we need a Savior. The law shows us the pits of hell because we are condemned by not keeping it 100% of the time for a lifetime. The law demands perfection 100% of the time for a lifetime. It is impossible. The law points us, humbles us, and prostrates us at the feet of Jesus. Once we are humbled and speak out our need, we forget our pride. We forget our checklists. We forget trying to make ourselves out to be acceptable to God on our own. That’s when we are ready to obey Him.

Israel rejected Jesus because they had forgotten the spirit of Scripture. They were so busy swatting at gnats that they missed the Savior. They worshiped the law instead of the Savior. Are you so busy trying to control you own path to heaven that you have missed the Savior. There is no amount of good we can do to make us right with God. Face it. Even when we try to do all the right things outwardly, our thoughts will condemn us in the eyes of the law. We come up short. We need something to get us beyond our futile efforts to make ourselves right with a perfect and just God. Doing the right things does not save us. We start off in the penalty box to begin with. We can never be perfect enough because we have sin in us. It’s existence condemns us regardless of what we do. We need an intervention!

His name is Jesus. God made it so. God said that the purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to give us a way out of our condemnation before the law. If we believe in our hearts that God sent His only Son for the purpose of saving us from our sins by being the sacrifice for sin on the cross, then, and only then are we made right. No checklists. No doing more good than bad. Just realization that we need a Savior. Just realizing that we cannot make it about us. Humbled by the law. Begging God to relent on our deserved punishment. Realizing that we need Jesus. It’s not religion. It’s not checklists. It’s a relationship with a Savior to whom we owe everything. Jesus. We need Him. Not just something nice to add to our mantlepiece. We absolutely need Him. Need. Need. Need. Need Him. When we are in need, it means we have to have something from outside ourselves. We NEED Jesus! Not the law. Not checklists. Not religion. Jesus, we NEED Him!