4. Final Words of Jesus: The Testimony of His Deity (Matt. 27:45-54)Related Media
Bryant Gumbel once asked Larry King, an interviewer on CNN: “If you could stand before God what one question would you ask him?” Larry King answered: “I would ask if he had a Son.” At Jesus’ baptism the Father testified to who Jesus was: “This is my beloved Son…”(Matt. 3:17). At Jesus’ transfiguration the Father again said: “This is my beloved Son…” (Matt. 17:5). Now at Jesus’ death the Father gives one final testimony to the deity of his beloved Son.
Our subject is: The five testimonies of Calvary. This passage teaches us that God has given ample testimony at Calvary that Jesus Christ is his Son through the testimonies (1) in the heavens, (2) on earth, (3) from under the earth, the conclusion of which is: “This truly was the Son of God.”
The events leading up to this scene at the cross of Jesus are: (1) Jesus’ intercession for his murderers; (2) Jesus’ response to the repentant thief; (3) Jesus’ care for his mother; (4) the mockery of the soldiers (dividing his clothes and casting lots for them); and (5) the scoffing of the passers-by, chief priests, rulers, and robbers - “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God come down from the cross… He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he is the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross and we will believe him… He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he will have him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matt. 27:40-44).
Suddenly, God stepped in to testify to his Son through these five miraculous testimonies to Jesus’ deity.
1. The Testimony Of The Midday Darkness (27:45)
a) Notice the peculiarity of the darkness. This darkness was peculiar in that it extinguished the sun. In the ordinary course of nature, light always banishes darkness - except at Calvary when the darkness overpowered the light. This was not an eclipse of the sun. A solar eclipse cannot take place at the time of a full moon, which it would have been at the Passover. And anyway, an eclipse only lasts a few minutes – this lasted three hours. This was not night-time darkness when the sun disappears over the horizon. This was darkness at midday from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (12 noon until 3PM), when the sun was at its height - a felt darkness that lasted for three hours. The prophet Amos prophesied of such a day: “And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9). Amos’ prophecy was specifically about the future misery of the Jewish people but it is a vivid picture of Calvary as the pledge of that coming darkness. This darkness was peculiar in that it extinguished the sun.
And this darkness was peculiar in that it enveloped the whole earth – “over all the land” (27:45b). Even if that was just Judea, it was still remarkable. This was surely an allusion to the darkness of Egypt: “And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt’” (Ex. 10:21).
Thirdly, this darkness was peculiar in that it exposed God’s hand. God stretched out his hand and blocked out the sun in testimony to the dreadful scene taking place below. Despite such intervention in the course of nature, nothing went out of rhythm. The very God, who by his word created the sun and all the laws of nature, stepped in and blanketed the land with darkness, so that all might know that the One dying on the centre cross was none other than his beloved Son.
That’s the peculiarity of the darkness. Then, notice...
b) The portrayal of the darkness. The darkness portrayed the suffering of Christ. It was oppressive, reflecting the burden of our sins laid on him. It was gloomy, marking the awfulness of his suffering at the hand of God. It was impenetrable, shutting him off from all witnesses as he alone dealt with God about our sins. His sufferings at the hands of men were exposed to view, but his sufferings at the hand of God were a dark secret, culminating in those final words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46). As Isaac Watts wrote: “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in; when the incarnate Maker died for man, his creature’s sin.”
The darkness portrayed the suffering of Christ. And the darkness portrayed the identity of Christ. The religious leaders said: “Show us a sign from heaven” (Matt. 16:1). That’s exactly what they got – a sign in the heavens. At his birth, the sign in the heavens was the shining of a new star. At his death, the sign in the heavens was the darkening of the sun at midday.
The darkness portrayed the identity of Christ. And the darkness portrayed the isolation of Christ. Jesus was isolated from God in the midday darkness. That’s why he cried: “Why have you forsaken me?”
The darkness portrayed the isolation of Christ. And the darkness portrayed the blackness of sin. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53). We were separated from God by the darkness of our sin, but now in Christ Jesus, God has separated us from our sin by thick darkness as Isa. 44:22 tells us.
The darkness portrayed the blackness of sin. And the darkness portrayed the wrath of God. In the parable of the wedding feast, the King says to the guest without a wedding garment: “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). Those without Christ will finally be assigned to outer darkness (Jude 13), such is the wrath of God against sin.
This, then, was the testimony of the darkness. Then follows…
2. The Testimony Of The Temple Veil (27:51a)
“The veil of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom” (27:51a). At the exact moment that Jesus cried out (v. 50), the veil (curtain) of the temple was torn in two. The temple, the successor to the tabernacle, had three areas:
(1) the Outer Court where the congregation of Israel assembled – the place of the brazen altar (the bloody sacrifice) and the brazen laver (the cleansing by blood), symbols of what was needed in order to draw near to God.
(2) the Holy Place where the priests ministered daily - the place of the table of showbread, golden candlestick, and the golden altar of incense, symbols of union and fellowship with God.
(3) The Most Holy Place - the place of the Ark of the Covenant with its golden cover (the mercy seat, the cherubim, and Shekinah cloud), symbols of the throne of God’s presence.
The temple had two veils made of three-coloured, interwoven fabric, hung by golden hooks from four gold pillars. The first veil covered the entrance to the Holy Place. It shut the people out of the Holy Place, confining them to the Outer Court. By means of the brazen altar and laver the people could enter the Outer Court, but no further. The second veil covered the entrance to the Most Holy Place. It shut the priests out of the Most Holy Place, confining them to the Holy Place. Only the High Priest could go into the Most Holy Place, once a year with blood.
There was the testimony of the temple veil. The veil of the temple was a warning to stay away from God. It symbolized obstruction to worship, concealment, secrecy. Access to God’s presence was limited because God was holy and man was sinful. Man’s sin had shut him out from God’s presence. Previously, the sole purpose of the veil was to say to man: “Stay out! I am holy: you are sinful.”
Then God reached out and tore the veil in two so that, now, the torn veil of the temple is a welcome to come near to God. It’s a welcome to come near to God because (a) the debt of sin has been paid. The way to come near to God has been opened because the penalty for sin has been paid, so that we could be pardoned and the barrier to approaching God be removed. The people could now advance into the Most Holy place, along with the priests and the high priest, because the sin question has been dealt with forever. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the one sacrifice sufficient for all time - never to be repeated (Heb. 10:12). It’s a welcome to come near to God because (b) access to God’s presence has been opened up for all. Fifteen hundred years of ritual had ended in a moment of time. Suddenly the veil was made useless for its purpose. You could see right through it – torn in two from top to bottom. What had previously been concealed was now opened to view. The secrecy of the Holiest of All was unveiled and all its mysteries were now open to view. At the precise moment when the priests would have been in front of the veil, waiting to go in at the beginning of the evening sacrifice, at that very moment “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (27:50-51a).
Now we have boldness to approach God (Heb. 10:19) through the work of Christ on the cross. Our High Priest has carried his own blood into the very presence of God for us. Now man does not need the intervention of the High Priest, for all are welcome to worship God through Christ. This was the grand moment for which the veil had existed throughout the ages. When the way into the Holiest was opened up what before had said, “Do not enter” now said: “Come near.”
Along with the darkness and the tearing of the temple veil, God testified to the deity of his beloved Son through...
3. The Testimony Of The Earthquake (27:51b)
“The earth shook and the rocks were split.” (27:51b). The earthquake testified to the significance of Christ’s death. As violent as the earthquake was it didn’t disturb anything else. It did not move the cross that stood on top of it. It only opened selected graves that were near it (27:52). All of this was an indication that divine intervention was at work. Natural forces did not give rise to this event. The trembling earth gave witness to the earth-shattering significance of Christ’s death, its finality and its triumph.
The earthquake testified to the significance of Christ’s death and the earthquake fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy, when Jesus said, “I tell you that, if these (his followers) should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Lk. 19:40). If those who knew him kept silent about who he was the stones would declare his glory. How many followers could have testified to who he was? Jairus? Zacchaeus? Nicodemus? Peter? But they all kept silent and so the stones cried out at Calvary.
The earthquake was Calvary’s answer to Sinai. There had been an earthquake at Sinai; now there was an earthquake at Calvary. The wrath of Sinai was now hushed in the mercy of Calvary. Notice that (a) The earthquake at Sinai declared the wrath and holiness of God. At Sinai, God gave the Law. The law exposed the exceeding sinfulness of man. Sin had existed before the law but the demands of Sinai exposed it, made it appear what it really was. At Sinai, God revealed himself in terrors. There were visible terrors - thunder, lightning, a thick cloud. Jehovah descended in fire and smoke went up “as the smoke of a furnace (and) the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Ex. 19:16-19). And there were audible terrors - a trumpet so loud that all the people trembled. At Sinai, God conveyed his hatred of sin. Through the terrors of sight and sound, the holy God made known to the Israelites the hideousness and terror of sin and so to drive man to God for mercy.
The earthquake at Sinai declared the wrath and holiness of God, but (b) the earthquake at Calvary declared the mercy and grace of God. At Calvary, Christ bore the wrath of God so that we might not have to bear the wrath of Sinai. At Calvary, the demands of Sinai were satisfied. The darkness of Calvary blotted out the darkness of Sinai. The wrath of God at Calvary quenched the fire of wrath at Sinai. The earthquake at Calvary absorbed the thundering and quaking of Sinai. The cry at Calvary tore in pieces the veil of Sinai which barred approach to God. The shout of victory at Calvary drowned out the trumpet of fear at Sinai. The mercy of Calvary appeased the condemnation of Sinai.
Calvary was the answer to, and fulfillment of, Sinai. Sinai was the sinner’s wretchedness and ruin; Calvary is the sinners recovery and salvation. Sinai was God’s voice of warning and condemnation; Calvary is God’s voice of pardon and peace. At Sinai the earth convulsed with pain and terror; at Calvary the earth erupted with joy and victory. Calvary’s mercy and grace is more powerful than Sinai’s vengeance and wrath.
Not only was the earthquake Calvary’s answer to Sinai, but also the earthquake was Calvary’s response to Eden. In Eden sin entered by one man “and thus death passed upon all men for all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The result was the curse on creation so that “The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs until now” (Rom. 8:22).
In Eden sin entered by one man, but at Calvary sin’s penalty was paid by one man and creation rejoiced at Christ’s victory over sin. The earthquake is the sign of this jubilation; that’s why the graves were opened. Death had been conquered and sin atoned for. Now, man could be reconciled to God. Such jubilation is the pledge of the ultimate restoration of all things. Under the reign of Christ, creation will be perfect once again. “The creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Isaiah prophesied, “The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).
That was the testimony of the earthquake. Then there was…
4. The Testimony Of The Opened Graves (27:52-53)
As the earthquake resulted from the shout, so the graves opened as a result of the earthquake – a testimony to the victory of Christ. The opened graves symbolize the final resurrection of the saints. “The graves were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (27:52). The opened graves contained the bodies of saints. And since this was not the final resurrection, it only needed “many bodies” (not “all”) to demonstrate the point. This was not the resurrection of 1 Cor. 15, but a resurrection like Lazarus - natural life given to natural bodies.
Jesus resurrection inaugurated the resurrection yet to come. “Now is Christ risen and become the first-fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor 15:20-22). The “saints” mentioned here are all the believers, who have died before Christ’s second coming (Heb. 11:13). Through Jesus, the hope of their resurrection is now realized. The graves that held prisoner the bodies of the dead saints were torn apart. All barriers to the resurrection of the physical bodies were removed. Now the bodies of those who “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14) can receive a body “fashioned like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21), in that day when “the dead in Christ shall rise first…” (1 Thess. 4:16).
Do you have the certainty of final resurrection with Christ? To have that certainty the Spirit of God must be in you. “If the Spirit of him that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). This is a great comfort to those who are trusting Christ.
So, the opened graves symbolize the final resurrection of the saints. And the opened graves were a public exhibition: “…and coming out the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (27:53). The graves were open for three days before the bodies were raised. At the moment of Christ’s death the graves were opened but the purpose of the opened graves did not take place until after his resurrection. Three days were ample, public testimony to the dead bodies they contained. As Paul said to Agrippa: “This thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).
The opened graves were a public exhibition. They were a public exhibition to Christ’s victory over death. In rising from the dead, “he destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). Because Christ had no sin of his own, death had no hold on him, so God raised him from the dead. “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more. Death has no more dominion over Him” (Rom. 6:9). The opened graves demonstrated Christ’s victory over death.
Finally, God gave testimony to his Son through...
5. The Testimony Of The Soldiers (27:54)
“So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”(27:54). What they saw caused them to fear. God’s intervention in nature caused fear in the soldiers. These men were afraid of nothing - their job was to crucify people. So hard were their hearts that they played games at the foot of the cross by dividing his garments and casting lots for them. But the testimonies to Christ’s deity at the cross caused them to “fear greatly.”
The felt presence of God always causes holy fear. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all that took place that day at Calvary was that the lives of the centurion and his soldiers were forever changed by the One they crucified.
What they saw caused them to fear, and their fear caused them to testify. At 9 AM their work was finished; another day’s work was done. So, “Sitting down they watched him there”(27: 36). But by 3 PM, they owned him as Lord. Pilate, Caiaphas, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Judas, and Peter - they had all denied him. Those who passed by mocked Jesus (27:39-43, 49). But these soldiers, having watched him die, testified: “Truly this was the Son of God.” The term “Son of God” was used in mockery by the Jews (27:40, 43), but these Gentile soldiers used it in reverence and awe.
Remember our thesis for this sermon: God has given ample testimony at Calvary that Jesus Christ is his Son. God has given full, miraculous witness to who Jesus is through these five testimonies at Calvary.
The soldiers responded - what about you? The soldiers recognized the testimony that God gave concerning his Son. They saw the darkness, the earthquake, the opened graves, and the raised bodies. They didn’t try to explain it away or attribute it to natural phenomena. They recognized exactly what God wanted the world to know, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Have you acknowledged the same? Have you had a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ? If you respond by faith today to the testimonies at Calvary, you can see him as clearly as if you were there and you can take refuge under the shelter of his blood. For “the blood of Jesus Christ (God’s) Son cleanses us from all sin”(1 Jn. 1:7).
Don Calhoun worked for $5 per hour at an office supply store in Bloomington, Illinois. He had only ever attended two Chicago Bulls games and now he was going to his third. As he entered the Chicago Stadium, a woman told him that he had been selected to take part in a promotional event during the game called “The Million Dollar Shot”. The Shot came after a time-out in the third quarter. If Calhoun could shoot a basket from the free-throw line at the other end of the court (79 feet away) he would win a million dollars.
Calhoun had played basketball at the Bloomington YMCA but never tried this. As he took the basketball in his hands, he glanced over at the Chicago Bulls bench. He could see that Michael Jordan and the others were pulling for him. Calhoun stepped to the line and let it fly. As soon as the ball left his hands, Phil Jackson (coach of the Bulls) said: “It’s good.” The ball went straight through the basket and the fans went wild. Calhoun rushed into the arms of Michael Jordan while all the Bulls’ players slapped him on the back.
When Calhoun went home that night, he only had $2 in his wallet but for the next 20 years he would receive $50,000 a year. The point is this: Sometimes one action, one decision, one moment can change your life forever. So it is when you choose to receive Christ into your life.
For those of us who know and love him as Saviour and Lord, what’s your testimony to Jesus? Our testimony to Jesus should be the same as the soldiers: “This truly is the Son of God.” Let us not be ashamed to testify to the deity of Jesus Christ.