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The Victorious Cross

Date: Mar. 31, 2018

Author: Sam Rarick

Matthew 27:32-56

Key Verse: Matthew 27:54

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!”

The title of my message is “The Victorious Cross.” Now, who here watches NBA basketball or follows the NBA? Well, who here has heard of James Harden? He’s the leading MVP candidate for the best team in the NBA, the Houston Rockets. Well, on February 28, the Rockets played the L.A. Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was the first quarter and the Rockets were leading 28 to 7. This was going to be another blowout for Houston. Harden got the ball at the top of the key. He was guarded by a 6’ 7” guy named Wesley Johnson, and well, let’s look at the replay. That was a nasty crossover and stare down. Who here saw this on social media or SportsCenter? Within seconds, this crossover was all over social media. Millions of people had seen it and were tweeting, retweeting, and making memes and GIFs about it. It was something so spectacular and extraordinary, that once people saw it, they had to share it. Some people even claimed that it was the best and most disrespectful crossover of all time. By their reaction, even the Clippers fans in the stands and other non-Rockets fans admitted that this was an amazing play. Some of you may be wondering how this relates to Jesus’ death on the cross. Well, the same reaction happened when Jesus died on the cross. Now, they didn’t have social media as we do nowadays, but the event that occurred was so spectacular, that even those who nailed him to the cross admitted that he truly was the Son of God.

Part 1 – The Crucifixion of Jesus
Let’s take a look at verse 32. We pick up our story with Jesus on his way to be crucified. He had been arrested, convicted in an unfair trial by the Sanhedrin, disowned by his disciples, had a murderer released in his place before Pilate, and was mocked, flogged and beaten by the Roman soldiers. Along the way, the Roman soldiers chose a man named Simon from Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross. They could have done this because, either Jesus could not physically carry the cross as fast as they wanted him to, or they were afraid that he may faint and die before they could achieve the full extent of their malice towards him. Either way, Simon was forced to carry the cross as Jesus was led to be crucified.   

They then reached a place called Golgotha (“the place of the skull”) which was outside of the city, but near to the city of Jerusalem. Some believe that this place is called “the place of the skull” because it was a place associated with death, where the bones and skulls of the dead were laid and strewn about. They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. According to Solomon’s direction, it was usual to have a cup of spiced wine for those to drink, that were to be put to death. (Prov 31:6, 7). This was maybe to provide some comfort and pain relief to those who are about to die. However, they mixed vinegar and gall with the wine. This made the wine sour and bitter. Even though it may have tasted very bad, I don’t think that is the only reason that Jesus refused to drink the wine. I believe the reason he refused to drink it is because he didn’t want anything to lessen his sense of pain, which in turn would diminish his death. Jesus wanted to experience the full pain and suffering of death. He wanted to feel himself die. As most of you probably know, crucifixion is a method of execution where a person is nailed to a cross by their hands and feet and suspended in the air. The person doesn’t die of the nails driven in, but from constantly having to push up on the nails to breathe. They eventually get too tired to lift themselves up and they suffocate to death. It is considered one of the worst ways to die. I don’t know about you, but if I were to die, I would want it to be quick and painless. I don’t think many people want to die a slow and painful death. But Jesus did in order to completely experience and defeat death.

The guards divided his clothes by casting lots, with people set guard to watch him. What is funny is that the chief priests, who more than likely set up this guard, thought they were being smart; but these guards ended up becoming witnesses of Jesus’ death. There was a sign placed above the cross that read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.” Typically, signs were placed above people’s heads who were crucified to bring more shame to the criminals and notify the public as to why the person is being crucified. Because Jesus had committed no crime, the charge against him, that was brought by the chief priests, was that he was the King of the Jews. They tried to shame him, but instead they brought honor to his name and testified to who he really is. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t say that he claimed to be the King of the Jews, but that he in fact is the King of the Jews. This truth asserts that Jesus is the King who the Jews were waiting for and who they should have submitted to. But they were so blinded by their sin and hatred, that they could not see through their own foolishness.

Jesus was crucified with two rebels, one on his right and another on his left. It says that he was crucified with them. When Jesus lived, he was separate from sinners. He was sinless and blameless in God’s eyes. He was a perfect being. However, at his death, he was joined with the sinners. He took part in the suffering for their sins. He did not deserve to be punished, for he did no wrong, but he was punished for our sake. He was crucified with the sinners and crucified in between two of them, as to say he is the chief sinner of them all. He took upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh and was numbered among the transgressors so that we may be numbered among the saints. He himself did not sin, but took on all of our sin, so that we may be considered righteous in God’s eyes. He paid the debt and allowed us to come to God through him.

People who passed by hurled insults at him, shook their heads and said, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” The chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders mocked him by saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The rebels also mocked him. Someone was probably spreading information that Jesus intended to destroy the temple in order to incite anger and rile up the crowd and those passing by even more. This was not true. They asked him to remove his nails and come down from the cross. They said that if you are the Son of God, then you can save yourself. They thought that if Jesus had the power he claimed he had, then this would be the perfect time to display it and give proof of it. This is why the Jews thought the cross and Jesus to be foolish. They believed that the Messiah would come with great power and glory. He would come as a glorious king in battle to help deliver them from the Romans. However, Jesus was crucified in weakness. He did not come with wealth, splendor, and majesty, but he came as a humble baby in a manger and died amongst the sinners. To the Jews, this type of death seemed foolish. However, even though the cross seemed foolish to them, it is anything but. 2 Cor 13:4a says, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.”Christ appeared as a weak and contemptible person while on the cross, but in the way he lived and carried out the mission of God, he was manifesting God’s divine power; a power that is able to destroy sin and death forever. Christ crucified is the Power of God and a part of God’s great wisdom, not foolishness. From the moment sin entered the world, God had planned this very moment. Our Lord Jesus undertook this great pain and suffering to satisfy the justice of God for the wrong done to Him through sin. Through his death on the cross and the blood he shed for us, our sins have been paid for. Praise Jesus!

Part 2 – The Death of Jesus
When Jesus was on the cross, from noon until three in the afternoon, darkness came over the land. The heavens were put into disorder and confusion. The sun itself withdrew and would not see this event; for it had never seen this sort of wickedness and shame. This darkness was not just localized to the area but occurred over the whole earth. It was recorded by a man named Dionysius, who was at Heliopolis, a city in Egypt. He wrote in Latin, “Aut Deus naturae patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur.” Which means “Either the God of nature is suffering, or the machine of the world is tumbling into ruin.” I took Latin for four years in high school. Even people in Egypt were able to see this darkness. This shows the great anguish of creation when the Creator of the world was dying on the cross. When you think about it, it makes sense that a darkness would cover the land. Jesus’ birth was signified with light by the star in the East. It is only befitting now that his death would end in darkness. Jesus, the Light of the World, was about to die.All those watching and those around the world were witnesses to this historic event.

At three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”). There are some things to note from his words. The first is how he uttered it. It says he uttered it with a loud voice. This shows the great anguish he was going through upon the cross. Also, it is interesting that he says he is forsaken by God. Jesus was not cursing or despising God. He knows that God loves him, but he has offered himself up to God as a sacrifice for our sins because it was God’s will to save us. But how did God forsake Jesus? First, God had delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Second, God had withdrawn from him the comfortable sense that Jesus gets from Him. When Jesus was first troubled, God comforted him with His voice, and when he was troubled in the garden, God sent an angel to comfort him. However, none of these came this time. Lastly, God let out his wrath against man’s sin upon him. Christ was made sin for us and a curse for us, so that we may be reconciled with God. God forsook Jesus, so that we may not be forsaken before God.

Let’s look at verse 50. It says, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” Between three and four o’clock, Jesus died. What is interesting is that this was considered the time of offering for the evening sacrifice, and the time when the paschal lamb was normally killed. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice and paschal lamb that was sacrificed for our sins. Jesus cried out in a loud voice and gave up his spirit. The loud voice that he had was significant. After all of the pain and fatigue that Jesus had gone through, he still had the power to cry out with a loud voice. Typically, a dying man’s voice will be one of the first things to falter, but not with Jesus. Jesus was strong to the very end. He gave out a cry of victory, and then he gave up his spirit. Jesus, the Son of God, truly died on the cross and died by the hands of those who hated him. His soul was no longer in his body. By this, all of the prophecies about his death were fulfilled. He had put the sin of the world on his shoulders as an offering, and voluntarily yielded his spirit.

At the moment he died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The temple curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place could only be visited by the high priest once a year with much ceremony and through a shroud of smoke. Where there had once been a barrier between God and us, Jesus destroyed that barrier. There is now a new and living way to come to God; through the blood of Jesus. No longer was the blood of goats and calves needed. Jesus blood was paid once for all. Through his blood, the veil has been lifted and nothing can obstruct or discourage us from coming to the Father.

    Along with this, the earth quaked, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. Jesus’ death was so powerful that there was an earthquake. Some say that the quake symbolizes the fatal blow now given to the devil’s kingdom. Even the rocks split, and the tombs were opened. The devil’s kingdom had been defeated by the death of Jesus. Even those who were dead came to life and appeared after Jesus’ resurrection. It is unclear who these saints are that rose from the dead. Some say that the ancient patriarchs rose again, others say people that lived with Christ, such as John the Baptist and Zechariah, but died before him, and still others say martyrs from the Old Testament. Which ever is the case, the death of Jesus had the power to raise people from the dead, because death had no power anymore.

A centurion was watching nearby. Now it is significant that this centurion was mentioned. They saw the earthquake and the other things that were done. This centurion probably didn’t know much about Jewish customs and tradition. In fact, he probably followed the multiple gods of the Roman religion. However, he makes a startling confession. He said, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Roman centurions went through rigorous training and were battle-hardened in order to get their position. They did not typically have much fear or pity, especially for those on the cross. However, there is no spirit too big for the power of Christ to break and humble. Another important fact about them is that they were Gentiles. They did not know the scriptures; however, they were able to see and confess that Jesus is the Son of God. This shows that the blindness of seeing who Jesus is, was lifted from their eyes. They were able to see that Jesus is the Son of God. Gentiles were now allowed to come to God and proclaim him as king. However, the Jews there still did not see, and their hearts were still hard. When we see the power of Jesus’ death, we can proclaim and witness, certainly, that he is indeed the Son of God.

At the end of this section, Matthew adds that there are women there, watching from a distance. Note that it doesn’t say any of his disciples were there, but in other gospels John was said to be there. These women loved Jesus so much. It might have been considered foolish by those associated with Jesus to appear at his death because they may have been punished or even killed themselves. However, the women did not care. Their love for their Lord and Savior compelled them to come and see these events, and in turn be witnesses to the fact that he died, so that they may testify to the glory of his resurrection.

Jesus did indeed die on the cross, and there are many witnesses to this fact: Simon, those set to guard Jesus on the cross, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, those walking by hurling insults at him, those crucified beside him, the heavens, those across the world, the women, and the centurion. All of these people testify to the fact that Jesus died. And based on all of these events, the centurion witnessed to who Jesus truly is; he is the Son of God. Now, none of us today physically saw Jesus’ death. We have this account that all these things happened, but how can we say with assurance, like the centurion, that Jesus truly is the Son of God; the one whose blood was sacrificed and paid for all? Let me give you an example from my life. As most of you know, I played basketball for four years of my college career. During the summer leading up to my last season, I had lost enthusiasm for the game of basketball. I didn’t have the same fire that I once had. We were blown out the first two games of the season, against Anderson college and University of Chicago. I did not perform well and was seriously considering whether or not to leave the team. I struggled with this greatly. I asked my parents for advice and they said to pray and ask God for his direction. So that’s what I did. I was very close to discontinuing my college career, but God had other plans for the season and for me. I came to Jesus with my problems and asked him what I should do. After some time, I felt God talk to me through His word. By looking at Jesus on the cross, there were so many times that he could have given up and taken the easy road while on the cross. However, he didn’t. The love and grace of Jesus showed me that I should stay on the basketball team for the rest of the season and struggle through this. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated and approached the game with enthusiasm. After we lost the first two games, we went 22-4 the rest of the year and made it to the national championship game. We beat a top 10 team in the nation in NorthPark University, barely lost at the buzzer to another top 15 team in the nation in Carthage, and won a double-overtime game in the national semi-finals, coming back from an 11 point deficit in the second half. Thinking back on the season, I realize that the devil was tempting me to give up and come down from my own cross. I was a leader of the team. Many of the guys on the team were two years younger and looked up to me. I was also the spiritual leader of the team. My coach had us circle up in the locker room before every game, and I led the team in prayer. I prayed that we may play hard and glorify God in our playing. I ended every prayer “in Jesus name.” If I had given up my cross, then the team would have missed this leadership. I thank God for giving me the wisdom to stay and help my teammates both physically and spiritually, by looking to the cross. I can certainly witness and testify to the truth that the cross has power and Jesus truly is the Son of God.

Now, as we watched earlier, James Harden’s crossover was an amazing spectacle, which brought some glory and victory to him. It awed people at how spectacular it was for a time, and people felt the need to share it. However, Christ’s death is so much greater. Figuratively speaking, Jesus crossed up the devil and left him lying in shame and humiliation on the floor. He defeated sin and death and we are all participants and share in Christ’s victory. This historic event was so spectacular that we should want to share and witness it to the ends of the earth. I pray that each one of you may realize how extraordinary Christ’s death is, and confess and witness, just like the centurion, that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

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