And he breathed his last
Now deceased atheist champion, Christopher Hitchens once said that the central tenet of our faith – Jesus’ death on a cross for sinners – the most wicked, immoral, vile, preposterous, and evil doctrine of all religion today. It is, he said, undeserving of the attention of civilized or thoughtful people.
Yet the death of Jesus for sinners has an entirely opposite effect of adoration on those who “see” it for what it truly is. Take Charles Wesley, famous brother of the famous John Wesley. Charles, who gave us “And Can It Be” and thousands of other hymns and poems, and has been called the poet of the faith said something entirely opposite of Christopher Hitchens:
“Behold the Savior of mankind
Nail’d to the shameful tree
How vast the love that Him inclined
To bleed and die for thee!
Tis done! The precious ransom’s paid;
Receive my soul, He cries
See where He bows his sacred head
Hew bows His head and dies
And then there’s that haunting beauty
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down
Now scornfully surrounded
with thorns thine only crown
How pale thou art with anguish
With sore abuse and scorn
How does that visage languish
Which once was bright as morn?
The death of Jesus is the lowest and darkest point in human history. Jesus has been betrayed, abandoned, denied, unjustly tried and condemned, flogged, beaten, mocked, insulted, and now crucified. Last week he was hoisted up on the cross, beginning the last 6 hours of his life. Today we see that finally, the Author of Life will die on the cross.
The best way to go through the text is to just go through it piece by piece.
Jesus spent six hours on the cross. He was hoisted up at the 3rd hour, which means 9am for us. After 3 hours of suffering, at noon, the sun stops shining. For the next three hours, until 3pm, there would be no sunshine, but, darkness over the whole land. His face, which shone like the noonday sun in all its brilliance at the Transfiguration, is now shrouded in darkness.
Throughout Biblical history we see Darkness has a role in signifying evil and as an instrument of God’s judgment. God used darkness during the 10 plagues on Egypt. It will be used in the future judgments God issues against the earth during the Tribulation. The 4th Trumpet Judgment and the 5th Bowl Judgment will bring terrible, painful darkness on the earth. How fitting then, that while God’s full wrath and judgment against sin was falling on His Son that the sun should not shine. How apropos that there should be darkness while the “Light of the world” was flickering out.
Did you know thatJesus entered the darkness so that you could leave it? “I am the Light of the world” He said, “Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”
Both Matthew and Mark record these words and both translate them for their readers. Jesus is crying out the very words of Psalm 22, verse 1:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The rest of the verse says, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” The One who was “in the bosom of the Father”, who was co-glorious with the Father, is now by His Father forsaken and abandoned.
Every time Jesus called on His Father he was answered. “Father glorify your name”, to which the Father replied audibly from heaven “I have, and I will glorify it again”. Coming up from the baptismal waters the Father’s voice thundered down from heaven, “This is My Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.” Late at night, early in the morning, on the mountainside alone, in the Garden sweating blood – every time Jesus called His Father answered.
But on the cross there was no answer. My God, My God, Why? Why Have you forsaken me? Silence. The silence of abandonment. It is beyond our ability to understand how the Father could in some way separate from the Son. One God, indivisible. I tremble to even begin trying to comprehend this. I can’t. All I can do is accept that in some way the Father forsook His Son. My conclusion is that it is better for me to feel more the horror of this than trying to make sense of the “how”.
No one will ask why in hell, but, cries of torment will rise up for eternity to the ears of God. And every cry will be met with divine silence. The silence of eternal abandonment. The only answer to the cries of those in hell, will be the cries of everyone else in hell.
Again you must ask Why? Why did God the Father so terribly forsake His own Son on the Cross? Do you know what the answer is? You. You are the reason. It is not to make much of us, by saying this, but, to make much of God. Anyone who sees this is humbled down to their toes at the thought of such an awesome eternal Creator would love me! “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” Or as the song goes:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that He would give his only Son
to make a wretch his treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
the Father turns His face away,
as wounds which mar the chosen one,
bring many sons to glory
“The Father turns His face away.” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “Your eyes” the OT prophet Habakkuk says, “are too pure to even look on evil”
Why did Jesus do this? Why did God do this? The answer is us. Or as the Newsboys song goes: “I’m forgiven, because you were forsaken”. Jesus was forsaken by God so that you could be received by God. All that is left is for you to receive Jesus. Receive the One who was forsaken for you.
In crying out with this question Jesus is not seeking an answer. It is an expression of His suffering. Sometimes in the the depths of agony reasoned and rational explanations of one’s suffering only add to the pain.
There is no part of Jesus in that moment that is desiring some “rational” explanation of what He’s going through. He knows what He’s going through and why. So what is the point of His question? The question is an expression – not an inquiry. It is an expression of His suffering, not an inquiry into it. Perhaps the only way suffering can adequately be expressed is in questions. Job’s friends did well when they were silent before his questions. They failed as friends when they tried to explain and rationalize his pain.
Advice: if someone is in pain, one of the best things you can do is sit in silence with them. Be with them. Unless they demand you try, avoid at all costs trying to help them “make sense” of what they’re going through. Our friendship is seen most in sitting with them in their suffering than it is in explaining their suffering.
Towards the end of the 6 hours on the cross, getting closer to 3pm in the afternoon, Jesus was given a drink. After crying out to God, the Jews standing around must’ve misheard Jesus and thought He was calling out to Elijah (35), for they said, “Listen, he is calling out to Elijah”.
Elijah is the great OT prophet who was swept up to heaven on chariots of fire without tasting death (2 Kg 2:11). Elijah appeared with Moses on the Mountain and talked with Jesus when He was transfigured (Mk 9:4). Elijah was believed to return prior to the coming of the Christ, and Jesus said John the Baptist was that Elijah figure (Mk 9:11-3). If you wanted to refer to the whole OT, you could say “Moses & Elijah”, which would refer to the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah). Elijah was the champion prophet, and in Jesus’ day the Jews believed that Elijah would come and save righteous people who were in trouble. (Similar to Roman Catholic belief in patron saints).
So it seems we can put a sequence together here:
- They taunt him early on after he’s hanging there to save Himself.
- Later, Jesus cries out “Father why have you forsaken me?”
- The Jews misunderstand him and think Jesus is calling on Elijah to come rescue him
- Then Jesus says he’s thirsty, according to John 19 He said He was thirsty.
- At which point someone gets him a drink
- Then they stand back and wait to see if Elijah arrives.
But, Elijah doesn’t come. No one is coming. Jesus is left utterly alone. This is His cup.
Then the hour finally comes. “With a loud cry” verse 37 says, “Jesus breathed his last.” His life began with the cry of a newborn babe in a manger. It ends with a cry of a man on a cross. John says Jesus’ final words were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, and Matthew says, “then Jesus gave up His spirit”.
After he breathed His last, Jesus went to “paradise”. In Luke 23:43 He told one of the thieves “Today you will be with me in paradise”. So on the day when Jesus died, he went somewhere called “paradise”. The word paradise literally means “park”. But not just any park, but a place of exquisite beauty and scenery. In the Bible it is the place where God dwells. Paradise is used to refer to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:3 LXX) and the future Garden (Isa 51:3LXX). In the NT paradise is used three times:
- Paul was caught up to paradise in some sort of out of body experience (2 Cor 12). He says it was the 3rd heaven, and while there he heard inexpressible things that he was not allowed to tell anyone. He went there and was never the same after he came back. When you’ve seen heaven you will not live on earth the same. Everything in Paul’s life became about getting as many as he could to go to Paradise.
- The tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden, is now in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2). Jesus told the Ephesian church that whoever overcomes would get to eat from the tree of life. The tree of life is in the future New Jerusalem, the City of God that will come down from heaven.
- Finally we see here that on that dark Friday, both Jesus and the thief went to Paradise after their death. After His death on that very day Jesus, along with the thief, would go into the presence of God in Paradise.
Are you going to Paradise when your time is up? There were two thieves with Jesus. One went to Paradise. The other went someplace else. Which thief will you see when you die? Jesus is the only one who can bring you to Paradise.
After Jesus breathed His last, something fascinating and miraculous happened: the Temple curtain was torn in half. From top to bottom. This curtain was inside the Jewish Temple. It was approximately 30ft high and 30 ft wide, 4 inches thick and weighed a ton. Josephus says that two horses tied on either side of the curtain could not tear it.
The purpose of this curtain was to close off the heart of the Temple, a room called “the Holy of Holies”, or, the Most Holy Place”. It was the place of God’s presence, where His Shekinah glory dwelled. No one was allowed in this room except the high priest, the highest religious man in Israel. And he was only allowed in once per year, and only after he had gone through a detailed process of religious cleansing. I’ve heard they would tie a rope to his ankle and some bells just in case he did things wrong and God killed him. They could drag him out.
The picture was clear: man is not allowed in the presence of God. Access to a holy God is closed off to sinful man. Someone holy and without sin must go into God’s presence on behalf of everyone else.
Jesus came. Up until Jesus high priests were going behind the curtain every year. But they were sinful themselves and had to be cleansed of their own sins before they could go into God’s presence on behalf of everyone else. And the work they did only lasted a year. Every year the priests had to keep repeating the same sacrifices over and over and over and over. The animal sacrifices and the high priests and the rituals were all signs of the reality that was coming. The reality is Jesus. He is the holy High Priest of all High Priests. He went behind the curtain one time and only one time. He shed His own blood, not the blood of an animal. He put an end to our guilt by the sacrifice of His own body once and for all! By doing so Jesus tore the veil from the presence of God to show that by doing away with sin man could now come into the presence of God.
The way is now open for you. God’s will for you is to step into His presence with Jesus Christ. Turn to Jesus. Let Him take away all your sins and let Him take you into the presence of God. “I am the way, the truth and the life” He once said “No one comes to the Father but through me”.
The Centurion, the Thief, & the Women.
Ladies first. We read that the women saw him. Thank God for women! How devoted are these women? They followed Him everywhere, sacrificially gave to finance the ministry and support Jesus. Now, at possible risk to their own lives they dared to go to Golgotha. They didn’t say anything – but they were there. The sheep scattered away from Jesus, but not them! Their devotion is seen in following Jesus all the way to the end. Wherever He was, there they would be.
Listen to me young unmarried men: you find a woman like that you marry her before she realizes the mistake she made in marrying you! Listen to me young men: be a man worthy of a woman like that. Be a man worthy of a Mary Magdelene, a Mary the mother of James and Joses, a Salome, and others. If a woman will follow Jesus to the very ends of the earth and back you be a man worth her following!
We also see another witness the Roman Centurion. “Truly this man was the Son of God!” It’s not so much where you start as where you end. At 9am he mocked Jesus, drove nails through His body, stole his clothes only to end up at 3pm declaring his faith in Jesus as the Son of God. I can tell you on the authority of Scripture that that soldier’s sins were forgiven that day.
The thief also repented towards the end. Like the soldier, the thief started out the day mocking Jesus: “C’mon . But towards the end He saved His soul by repenting with those famous words: “Jesus, remember me in your kingdom.” To which Jesus replied with those famous words: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Do you see Jesus on the cross? Have you started out and spent most of your life on the wrong side of Jesus? The beauty of Jesus is that no matter how many yesterdays you’ve spent against Him, today you can start with Him. It all starts with seeing Him on the cross..
After spending our time today at the cross, I’m not sure there’s a better place for us to go than to the Communion Table. Paul said that when we take Communion we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes…”
This holy ritual preaches. It’s a picture that preaches a message. The bread Jesus said symbolizes His body, broken for us. The cup, He said, symbolizes His blood, shed for us. Do this, He instructed, in remembrance of me. In other words, continually remind yourselves of the sacrifice I made for you by coming to the bread and the cup.
You see, there is no saving power in the bread and the cup. The only saving power is in Jesus. Salvation is not at this table. It’s at the cross. If you’ve not gone yet to the cross to be redeemed, don’t come to this table to remember.
Before we partake of Communion, let us take time to confess to the Lord. We will begin with some time of silence. Take advantage of that time to confess your sins. Then, after few moments, I will pray a corporate confession. After confession, we’ll take communion.