With every step we have taken, the cross has slowly been coming into view. Certain death is looming over the Savior. As the tour continues, we skip past the trial Jesus has, first with the Jewish leaders (Matthew 26:57-27:56), then before Pilate—who in the end finds nothing worthy of crucifying Jesus. Following a custom of the day, Barabbas is released, and Jesus is condemned to die as the crowd shouts, “Crucify him!” Our tour continues after the trial.
Crucifixion was a slow and painful death. There are times in life when we watch a loved one go through a slow and painful death. Watching them struggle can have a tremendous impact in our lives. However, in the quiet moments, away from the machines in the hospital room, we wonder why a loved one would experience such pain. In the case of a sudden death the question of “Why?” screams even louder. As we watch Jesus go through a horrible death, we may be asking the same question, “Why?” Why does Jesus have to die in such a horrible and painful way?
With this passage of Scripture, the first part of our tour will conclude. We will have walked alongside Jesus in the final hours Matthew has shared with, and we will see Jesus’ cross be lowered into the ground where he will breath his final breath.
(Read Matthew 27:32-44)
The Crucifixion of Christ
We sit on the hill of Golgotha, in the shadow of the city of Jerusalem and prepare to watch Jesus die on a Roman cross. Playing in the background is a prophetic section of Scripture that prepares everyone for these tragic events told by the Prophet Isaiah. Here are his words:
(Read Isaiah 53:3-9)
With this piece of prophecy playing in our minds, we are ready to see the details of a Roman crucifixion on a terrible cross where the payment for our sin is finally made.
It was common for criminals to carry the cross beam to the place of crucifixion. After Jesus has been beaten within inches of his life, he carries his cross through the city streets. This is where we see the details of his death come into clear view. Matthew tells us a guy named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was forced by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross to its final place. Jesus, overwhelmed with pain and exhaustion, was unable to carry it any further and collapses in the street.
Jesus comes to Golgotha and is placed on the cross. Two criminals are crucified next to him. We observe a steady stream of people passing by mocking him about destroying the temple and calling on him to save himself. We even hear those crucified with him mocking him. Not only is the regular person mocking but also the religious leaders. The religious leaders say this in verse 42 which stands out, “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.” Our imagination takes us to a place of wonder by asking a question: what would have happened if Jesus stepped down from the cross at the moment? Something tells me they still would not believe him, however, it would have truly been an interesting event.
Finally, after Jesus is placed on the cross, the Romans attach the charge for Jesus’ crime which reads, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Through this brutal exercise, Jesus hangs on the cross, suffering for our sin, the only just payment that could atone for the sin of world was dying on a Roman cross.
(Read Matthew 27:45-61)
The Death and Burial of Christ
As we interact with the words of Matthew at this point, we realize that the pain and agony our Lord experienced in this moment was because of our sin. This act was a demonstration of love toward sinful people so that sinful people can have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8). While we do not know what it was like to be there in that moment, Scripture provides a picture for us that gives us the perspective as if we are standing in the shadow of the cross. It was only a matter of time before the struggle of crucifixion to take Jesus’ life.
From noon (sixth hour) to 3:00 (ninth hour), Matthew tells us that darkness covers the land. When the sun is at its full height and burning bright, darkness covers the land. Imagine how this impacts people. They may look around wondering what is happening. Then we hear Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” In this moment Jesus takes the sin of the world on himself as the sacrificial lamb. Some think he is calling out to Elijah, and Jesus yield his spirit, breaths his last and dies on the cross for our sin.
Immediately when the death of Jesus is observed, two monumental events occur. First, the veil in the temple is torn from top to bottom. This is the veil that separates the most holy place from the holy place. The part that no one could enter. Through Jesus death, all have access to God. Second, tombs were opened, and people received resurrected bodies and appeared to many in the city. There are so many questions about this which can be for another time, but what we see in this moment is the immediate impact of Jesus death.
Perhaps the clearest declaration of Jesus’ identity comes from a Gentile—a Roman, centurion. This guy was a skilled executioner and he knew when a person who was crucified was dead. He has been present through the entire process, has seen the earthquake, and now stands in awe and makes a profound profession, “Truly this was the Son of God.” This truly is a climactic testament to the life of Christ. He is the Son of God. As the centurion pronounces this, he also confirms in this moment that Jesus has died. This man knew when death was realized in a crucified victim, and this announcement confirms both. Normally people would be left on the cross to rot, but Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried.
The burial of Christ is an important feature that we sometimes skip over when we talk about the death of Jesus. We typically move from the cross to the resurrection when we talk about these events and we fail to bury him in the tomb. Burial is proof that a person is truly dead.
Note a few items in the text. Somewhere around 6 pm Jesus passes. Because its Friday night and time to prepare for Sabbath, the law states he must be taken down and buried. Next, we learn about a man named Joseph. Matthew tells us he was from Arimathea, he was rich, and was a disciple of Jesus. He goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’ body, and he is given permission to take it. He wraps Jesus’ body in grave clothes places him in a rock that was cut out. Then a massive stone is rolled over the entrance. Joseph goes away while Mary and the other Mary sat opposite of the tomb.
Matthew 27 finishes with a discussion Pilate has with chief priests and Pharisees concerning Jesus’ words about rising again after three days. Pilate ordered the tomb to be secured so that no one could steal his body to divert the resurrection. As we will soon discover, this attempt is a worthless exercise.
As we walk away from the tomb on Friday evening, we leave watching Jesus go through an agonizing and painful experience. This physically shows us the extent of God’s wrath on sin. Now consider some thoughts to remember.
When we see a loved one suffer pain prior to death or if a loved one loses their life suddenly, we often want to know the answer to one question, “Why?”. Often, this is a question that is unanswerable, but for Jesus’ death, the “Why?” question is a great one to ask because of the eternal implications it makes available for people today.
The Cross is the first part of redemption. Sin has been defeated in death. For you and me to have a relationship with Christ we must first be redeemed. In order to be redeemed we must have a method in which our sin can be forgiven. The only way sin can perfectly be atoned for is through the death of Christ. The cross is the means by which redemption is possible and the place where sin has been forgiven.
The Messiah is our Suffering Servant. Scripture teach us that Jesus will come two times. The first coming of Christ was his birth (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). His mission is very clear, God send his Son to perfectly atone for the sin of the world. The second coming of Christ is when Jesus will return following his resurrection to rule as King for 1000 years (Acts 1:9-11; Revelation 20). The first advent of Christ is significant as he defeats sin on the cross and conquers death through his resurrection. Therefore, we realize that our perfect atonement for sin is realized in the cross.
The first part of knowing the redeeming work of the Lord is to accept the fact that Jesus was sent into the world by the Father to die on a cross for your sin and mine. Without the death of Jesus, no person could be saved. The death of Christ defeats sin and death. The shedding of his blood is what was required for our sin to be forgiven. Understand this, Jesus paid this penalty of death because of his intense love for you and me. We cannot work our way into heaven but understand that God’s grace is what saves us from sin, and we must respond in faith. Have you put your trust in Christ who saves you from sin, confessed your sin to him, and asked him to be Lord of your life? If not, today is the day of your salvation!
As part one of our series concludes, the death and burial of Christ sets the stage for the true victory that every believer has in Christ because Jesus was not conquered by death.
David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.