Below is a talk on a section of Matthew 26-28 that my wife gave to a ladies’ group a couple months ago at our church. She did a great job!
There is so much in this passage. It encompasses the gospel – Jesus’ death on our behalf, His resurrection, and His command to go and tell everyone this gospel. Where do I even start? I did think it was interesting that a missionary kid was given the passage with the Great Commission in it.
In one sense, this could be summed up pretty quickly: Jesus is Who He said He is – these chapters continually show how He has fulfilled the OT Scriptures that prophesied about the coming Messiah and Savior. He fulfills the reason that He came to earth as a human – to die a sinner’s death on our behalf, for the forgiveness of sins. Then being raised to life again, He has all authority and gives us the great task of proclaiming this gospel to all the world, with the promise of being with us through this daunting endeavor. In a nutshell, that’s what we have.
But I’d like to take a closer look at the crucifixion. Let’s read Matthew 27, starting in verse 24 and going through verse 56.
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
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.
So, let’s stop for a second. This is a familiar story to us. We are told it from the time we are children if we grow up in the church. We learn it as new believers and are reminded of it every Easter, which is coming up shortly. But don’t let the familiarity of the story blind you to what Jesus experienced here. Crucifixion was a horrific way for someone to die. Often beaten before being hung on a wooden beam, their back would have been torn and bloodied, rubbing up against rough wood. In order to breathe, they would have had to put all their weight onto their feet, which had nails going through it into the wood. The pain would have been excruciating. Usually crucifixion would take several days for someone to finally suffocate and die, which is why the other criminals had their legs broken, so they would not have been able to keep pulling themselves up to breathe and would have suffocated quickly.
A medical doctor, C. Truman Davis, writes from a medical perspective about what crucifixion was like. Here are some of his descriptions:
The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flexion and movement….
The left foot is now pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves.
As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen…..
Jesus experienced hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain where tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins — a terrible crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
This is what Jesus went through. This is what He suffered for me and for you. And yet we so often doubt His love for us. How can I not trust Him if He was willing to go through all of that for me? How can I keep choosing to sin when my sin cost Him so much?
Jesus’ crucifixion was prophesied in the Old Testament and Matthew brings out many of the details to show how Jesus was fulfilling these prophecies.
Let’s read through Psalm 22 and see the many parallels with Jesus’ crucifixion.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
Isn’t that amazing? David, writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes so much of what Jesus goes through. Even the mocking phrase of the chief priests, “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;” is seen from Psalm 22.
When we read the different gospel accounts we can see what each writer included and didn’t include of Jesus’ final hours. Matthew doesn’t record Jesus’ final words. He tells us that Jesus cried out with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. He did what He said He came to do – to lay down His life. No one could take it away from Him; He laid it down – He had the authority to do this.
Matthew tells us of the curtain being torn. This was huge – the curtain that separated the Most Holy part of the temple where the ark of the covenant was from the rest of the temple, protecting unholy people from being too close to a holy God. Can you imagine the shock of those who were at the temple and this huge curtain suddenly rips from top to bottom and the Most Holy place of the temple is exposed? Devout priests were probably panicking, thinking they were about to die for seeing what they weren’t supposed to see. Would they have quickly tried to repair it or cover it up?
And then, just as Jesus said He would, He rises from the dead. An angel tells the women who have gone to His tomb that He is going before them to Galilee and the disciples will see Him there. Matthew gives the account of the 11 disciples going to Galilee as Jesus directed. He doesn’t tell us how many days have passed or the other meetings Jesus has had with the disciples. Matthew’s focus is that Jesus has instructed the disciples to go to Galilee and He meets them there, to give them their final command before He goes into Heaven. And this also is familiar to us – “Go and make disciples”. But do we pay attention to what Jesus says right before this command? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Because of this authority, they are thus to go and make disciples. Jesus concludes with the promise to be with them always. The command is bookended by Jesus’ reminder of His authority and His promise of His presence. Just as we see so often throughout the Bible, what is true (the indicative), Who God is, is given to us so that we are able to then follow the command (the imperative).
So, it may seem like this passage isn’t very practical. Yeah, I know, it’s about Jesus’ death and resurrection. And yeah, I know we’re supposed to go and make disciples, but I need something tangible to hang on to when I’m trying to reason with my 3 year old who keeps hitting his sister. Or how to make it through another day when the pain in my body is more than I can bear. But the reality is, ladies, that this passage is EVERYTHING! God Himself came down to earth in a human body, down amidst this broken and hurting world. He lived the perfect life that we just can’t do. Then he suffered what is probably one of the most horrific ways to die – to pay the penalty for OUR sins! Not His own – OURS! What kind of love is this? How could He do that – Why would He do that? That is a love that surpasses knowledge. And it wasn’t because we are all that. No, it was because of God’s mercy and grace and love. May this reminder of how great God’s love is, love enough to die, be an encouragement to you today.
That last refrain – “Why should I gain from His reward?” Why should we? We shouldn’t. “But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom.” And yours, if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ. This was why Jesus came. We were in rebellion against God with no hope of saving ourselves. He came to pay the penalty of that rebellion and to reconcile us to God. He accomplished what He came to do. So, seeing this great sacrificial love that God has for us, how can we not tell everyone about Him? So go and boast of Jesus’ resurrection!