Jesus Died a Startling Death


Text: Matthew 27:45-54

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness came upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 Then about the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani; this means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of those who were standing there heard this, they began saying, “He is calling Elijah.” 48 And immediately one of them ran, then taking a sponge, he filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a reed, and gave him a drink. 49 But the rest of them began saying, “Leave him alone! Let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Now Jesus, again calling out in a loud voice, let go of his spirit. 51 Then behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks split, 52 and the tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion, and those with him who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, they were terrified, saying, “Truly, he was the Son of God!”


Startling sights occurred at momentous times in the life of Christ. Gabriel appeared to announce to Mary his coming conception by the Holy Spirit. The glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds, who saw and heard an angel announce his birth. A star led the magi to him that they may worship him. At his baptism the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, as his Father declared that he was his beloved Son. His death, likewise, was attended with startling sights.

By means of Matthew’s inspired record, we will walk to Calvary with Jesus to behold those startling sights. We will see Jesus die on Calvary, having suffered the torments of hell, and having his sacrificial death certified by miracles.

Having followed Jesus along the Way of Sorrows and outside the city gates of Jerusalem, we walk up to Calvary, which means The Place of the Skull. There we behold Jesus’ hands and feet nailed to his cross. The soldiers lift up his cross and leave him hanging on it between the sky above and the earth beneath, like a criminal being executed for a capital crime. He had committed no crime, however. His only offense had been telling the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes the truth, that he was the Son of God. For this they wanted him executed. Pilate, the governor, tried to release him. When the chief priests and Pharisees, however, threatened Pilate’s political career with an appeal to Caesar, to please them he condemned the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion.

It is now 12:00 noon, the sixth hour after the dawning of the new day. We are startled, amazed, then frightened as we behold the light of the sun fading until darkness covers the whole land. This cannot be an eclipse of the sun, for this strange darkness is occurring at a time in the month when there is a full moon. The moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun and cannot possibly block the sun’s light. This darkness at high noon is so startling that people in far away places like Egypt, Greece, Rome, even China, record this amazing event in their ancient antiquities. God is placing his hand over the sun to enshroud in darkness the suffering and death of his own Son, Jesus, who hangs on the cross.

The suffering and death of Jesus startles the mind. Jesus is God’s holy Son. He is also the sinless Son of Man. God’s law says the wages of sin is death. Jesus, however, is without sin. He does not have to die. Yet he is suffering on the cross and is going to his death.

There is but one explanation to this mystery. Jesus, the Son of God, has humbled himself to suffer the death of sinners that his own law demands. He, the Lord, who made the law, places himself under his law to suffer the punishment for sinners.

Though he is without sin, he is suffering and going to his death because God had laid on him the iniquity of us all. God had made him, who had no sin, to be sin for us. God is holding him as the one guilty of every sin that was ever committed. God has made him the one, great sinner of the world, who must suffer the punishment for the sins of the world.

About the ninth hour Jesus cries out loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani;" this means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Being “the sinner” who was guilty of every sin ever committed, during these three hours of darkness God has forsaken him. What a startling turn of events! It surpasses our understanding. The Father and the Son are one and the same God. Jesus had acknowledged this: “I and the Father are one.” How, then, can the Father forsake his Son? We do not know. We can only believe that he did.

This darkness testifies to the Father’s having forsaken his Son. It demonstrates the Father has withdrawn the light of his glory, mercy, and blessings from Jesus to abandon him to his dark wrath and punishment.

Some of those standing around us misinterpret Jesus’ words “Eli”. They begin saying, "He is calling Elijah." And immediately one of them runs, then taking a sponge, he fills it with wine vinegar, puts it on a reed, and gives him a drink. But the rest of them beian saying, “Leave him alone! Let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

While everyone is watching and waiting, Jesus cries out again in a loud voice. Only this time, having called out, he lets go of his spirit. What a startling sight! He chooses the moment of his death, and by his own will dies. No mere human can will himself to death at the moment of his choosing. He had said that he had the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. He just demonstrated that power. He laid down his own life.

His life was not taken from him. He did not die as a result of being crucified. Asphyxiation is the usual cause of death for those who are crucified. Hanging forward by the arms strains the muscles that enable them to breath. Those muscles tire, grow weak, and finally give out altogether, causing their death. This did not happen in Jesus’ case. He cried out in a loud voice. At the moment of his death he was still able to breath deeply, which enabled him to cry out.

Jesus’ gave up his life willingly himself. He gave his innocent life into death as the offering and sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world that had been laid on him. What an amazing sacrifice he made! He died, so all the sins he carried would be forgiven. He, the innocent one, died, so we, the guilty ones, may live!

We have seen some startling things here on Calvary. Among them we have seen in this darkness a startling glimpse of what hell is like. Jesus repeatedly referred to hell, the place where God punishes the wicked for their sins, as the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For three hours we have seen Jesus enshrouded in this darkness, in which God punished him for being the wicked person who was guilty of the sins of the world. Jesus was made to suffer in this darkness the punishment for sin outside Jerusalem, the city of God. Likewise, in the outer darkness of hell the damned are tormented for their sins outside the heavenly city of God. As God had forsaken Jesus to his wrath and punishment against sin, so in hell God forsakes the damned to his wrath and punishment against their sins.

God himself is light. In him there is no darkness at all. He has no part with the darkness of sin and unbelief, which is the devil’s domain. In this darkness where God had forsaken Jesus, Jesus was separated from God’s glorious light, mercy, and blessings. Likewise, the damned in hell are forever separated from God’s glorious light, mercy, and blessings. They are left to agonize and weep in the darkness of God’s wrath and punishment against their sins. There they angrily gnash their teeth in frustration over never being released from their torment.

All these startling sights that occurred during these dark hours happened for our benefit, to teach us important lessons. If Jesus, the Son of God, who was without sin himself, was forsaken by God to suffer such wrath and punishment for sins he did not commit, how much worse will the punishment be for those who are guilty sinners? If these things happened to Jesus, the green tree, what will happen to us who are dry, dead wood?

We are the sinners who have violated God’s law to fear, love, and trust in him above all. We are the wicked who have broken his commandments and cannot, therefore, dwell with God. We are the ones who deserve to be cast into the outer darkness where God should forsake us to the torments of his wrath and punishment.

Yet not we, nor anyone else, need to suffer in the outer darkness of hell, for Jesus suffered in this darkness God’s wrath against the sins of us all. In this darkness God’s wrath against sin was vented. His justice to punish sin was satisfied. This being true, the only reason anyone will suffer in the outer darkness of hell is because that person did not put his trust in Jesus and believe that Jesus suffered the pains of hell for his sins while on the cross. Jesus has said, “The one who believed and was baptized will be saved; but the one who did not believe will be condemned.” Only a lack of faith in Jesus now condemns. May the Holy Spirit through the Word give us the faith to believe in Jesus so we will be saved!

The eternal salvation from hell that Jesus’ suffering obtained for all was certified by the miracles that accompanied his sacrificial death for sin. Now Jesus, again calling out in a loud voice, lets go of his spirit. Then behold, the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quakes, and the rocks split, and the tombs are opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep are raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they go into the holy city and appear to many people.

Through this Word we behold from Calvary more startling events. When Jesus gives up his life as the atoning sacrifice for sin, the curtain in the temple is torn in two from top to bottom. That curtain in the temple sealed off the Most Holy Place, the place where God’s presence dwelt. That curtain kept sinners from coming into his presence, for the wicked cannot dwell with God. That curtain was huge, between 60 to 80 feet wide, 20 to 30 feet high, and as thick as a man’s hand. As soon as Jesus gave his innocent life to pay for the sins of the world, God tore that curtain in two. Jesus’ death removed the barrier of sin that had stood between God and sinners. Their sins no longer separated them from God. Jesus’ death reconciled them to God and restored them to God’s favor. Through Jesus’ death they can come into God’s presence to dwell with him. Through Jesus’ death they have access to God.

As soon as Jesus dies an earthquake startles us. It shakes the earth and splits rocks. This earthquake is a demonstration of the almighty power of God, as it was on Mount Sinai. This earthquake also declares the judgment of God has come, as a gigantic earthquake will announce the judgment of God has come on the last day. In connection with Jesus’ death, God shakes the earth and splits the rocks with an earthquake, for his judgment has been rendered upon the sins of the world. Punishment for sin has been exacted. Divine justice has been satisfied.

When Jesus dies for the sins of the world, tombs break open. The bodies of many holy people who had died are raised to life. These Old Testament people were holy ones and saints through their faith in the Christ, for whom they had waited to redeem and save them. Jesus’ death paid for their sins, which was the cause of their deaths. Their sins having been paid for, God breaks open their tombs, raises them to life and glorifies them, as a sign of what is to come for all who believe in Jesus. God certifies Jesus’ death has paid for sins and has purchased eternal life.

These miraculous signs that accompany Jesus’ death certify Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins. These divine miracles certify that we now have access to God through Jesus’ death for our sins. We may now come into the presence of God to dwell with him as his redeemed people. Judgment on our sins has been rendered. God’s justice has been satisfied. Our sins have been forgiven. We will not perish in the judgment to come but will be raised from the dead to eternal life.

Through this Word we have beheld many startling things in connection with Jesus’ death. Having beheld them, faith will lead us to conclude what the centurion who crucified Jesus concluded: “Truly, he was the Son of God!” Amen.