We all know what it is to be liked or disliked, to be part of a group and to be all alone. For some the idea of being rejected can be more than they are able to bear.
The recent events in Jonesboro, Arkansas were said to be triggered by a young boys rejected love. Mitchell Johnsons anger turned to vengeance after Candace Porter made her intentions clear to have nothing to do with him. It appears that his loneliness from a troubled home life was unfortunately fueled by interest in gangs. Last Fall in West Padukah, Kentucky, Michael Corneal opened fire on a prayer group. Few explanations have be found, other than Michael felt powerless and picked on, so he struck out in anger at the world. And in Pearl, Mississippi, Luke Woodham, who said he spent his whole life feeling like an outcast, finally found some people who wanted to be his friends. "I was trying to find hope in a hopeless world." Woodham is accused of slitting his mother's throat and then going to his high school and opening fire on students, killing two. The friends he found to stave off loneliness were said to be a part of a teen satanic group that called itself "Kroth," who were arrested by police and charged with conspiracy in the murders. Woodham claims he was influenced by "Kroth" founder Grant Boyette, 18. "I tried so hard to get his acceptance," Woodham said. But loneliness is not only for those who commit heinous crimes. The desolation they experience can often be a part of the lives of so many of us. Loneliness is said to be the great plague of our time. Detachment and isolation feed the sense of helplessness and desperation.
The loneliest people in America, psychologists tell us, are college students. Next on the list are divorced people, welfare recipients, single mothers, housewives, and the elderly. To point out how lonely people can be one only needs to hear about an ad in a Kansas newspaper. It read, "I will listen to you talk for 10 minutes without comment for $5.00." What may sound like a scam, wasnt. The person was serious. Did anybody call? You bet. It wasn't long before this individual was receiving 10 to 20 calls a day. The pain of loneliness was so sharp that some were willing to try anything for companionship.
Loneliness is more than any of us are able to endure. Yet the loneliness each of us may feel at times in our lives is nothing to be compared to the loneliness that one person experienced two thousand years ago. As we saw last week Matthews focus is a view not so much of the Cross; the gaze is not on the sufferings Jesus endured, but the perspective is from the Cross as the Son of God was mocked. While that perspective continues in our passage this morning, we gather a glimpse as to the intensity of our Savior's suffering for us as Matthew records just one statement by Jesus, as He cries out to the Father. Here we hear the utter desolation, the complete rejection Jesus endured so that we may be accepted. Our reception is because of Jesuss rejection.
45. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
46. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
47. When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."
48. Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
49. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."
50. And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
52. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
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 SONS REJECTION CAUSES CONFUSION (Verses 45-50)
The Sons rejection is seen in the darkness (verse 45)
The brilliant light of the Christmas star that hung over Jerusalem, illuminating the darkest night is now snuffed out. Now at noon the sun ceases to shine as the land is covered in darkness. When Jesuss public ministry began at His baptism, the heavens opened up, the dove descended and the Fathers voice declared that this was His beloved Son. Now the sky is shut tight and the Fathers voice is silent.
The darkness which covered the land was the apocalyptic sign of judgment. What the prophet Amos foretold centuries before had come true.
"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. Amos 8:9-10
The outer darkness of hell descended on Jesus as He became a curse for us, bearing the wrath of the Fathers anger against our sin. The eternal debt we owe was paid by the eternal Son. The unthinkable fury of God fell on the One whom He loved.
The Sons rejection is seen in His cry (verse 46)
Last week saw how Psalm 22 points to the response by the crowd to the Cross. Jesus now quotes from the first verse. Jesuss rejection is complete; His words portray a brief glimpse in His agony. He was rejected by all humanity, crucified by the Romans, shunned by His own countrymen, condemned as a traitor. His disciples fled in the dark night; one betrayed Him for silver, another denied even knowing Him. But worst of all, He was rejected by His own Father; as He took on the sins of His people, the Fathers holiness demanded the Fathers back be turned. His pain is not directed to those around Him, but His desperation is directed toward the one whose torment is the worst. The torment of the crowd is insignificant to the withdrawl of the Fathers presence, the complete isolation from the Fathers care.
But notice His cry. It is a prayer. "My God, My God." While Jesus knows that because of sin the Father has abandoned Him, still the God whose presence Jesus does not feel, Jesus addresses. The God whom Jesus does not experience, Jesus calls. Yet Jesus right here, better than anywhere else, teaches us exactly what faith is: It is believing God even when we do not feel Him. Real faith is calling on God when experience tells us God is not there. Jesus took on our abandonment, our questions, our feelings of Gods betrayal, our most agonizing experiences, and still believed in the God He could not feel and was tempted to disbelieve.
There is perhaps no greater pain we can suffer than to be abandoned by someone we love. Divorce, desertion, rejection. Jesus knew this hell. He descended into hell. There is no loneliness which you can experience, that Jesus did not feel already.
The Sons rejection is seen in the crowds confusion (verse 47-49)
In this darkness it should be no wonder that the mocking crowds confusion was only heightened. They heard Him cry to God, using the shortened form of Elohim, saying Eloi. They mistook His cry to the Father as a cry to the ancient prophet Elijah. Their conjecture was not too far fetched. Elijah was a St. Jude in Jewish folk belief; he would come down and save Israelites in times of trouble.
The crowds mocking misunderstanding simply portrays, in one last snapshot, how Israel responded to Jesus during His ministry: interested, credulous, curious, but without ears to hear, without understanding, and finally, with misled opinions. They were completely unable to make sense of the events around them.
One from the crowd determined to stop the mocking and come to Jesuss aid. As he lifted the sponge with the cheap wine which solders kept, the people only intensified their torment.
But while the confused crowd continues to mock, Jesus calls out once more and dies. With that cry, He breathed His last at 3 that afternoon. As He became the willing sacrifice, a short distance away in the temple, the hands of the High Priest were placed on the head of the evening sacrifice. That special sacrifice was the paschal lamb. Gods great passing over the land was not to be found in the picture of the lamb, but in the reality of the Lamb of God who took on Himself the sins of the world. But at that same moment something else happened, an event which would spell the end of Judaism as God had commanded it to be. The shadows were passing because the substance was present. When the Fathers wrath was finished being poured out on His Son, the Father's reception was extended to all those who would believe.
THE FATHERS RECEPTION CREATES CONFESSION (Verses 51-54)
The Fathers reception is seen in the open access (verse 51)
What Christ foretold, what the accusers twisted was now fulfilled. The temple was destroyed, for Jesus died and the old way of temple sacrifices was over. The veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place, the veil behind which the High Priest could enter only once a year, was torn in two. That which up to this time concealed the mercy seat of God, that which hid from peoples eyes Gods throne was now open. Judgment for sin was now complete; open access was accomplished. Our separation from God because of sin produced an unbridgeable gap, a loneliness between us and God. But as Christ took on our loneliness the veil was removed so that open access to the Father would become a reality.
This curtain was no thin sheet, but 60 feet long and 30feet high. It was 4 inches thick. It represented the separation between God and humanity. It was a constant reminder that our sin separates us from God, that a sacrifice is necessary for access to Him. Such a tremendous disruption in the Jewish worship is not only recorded in three of the gospels, but also by the Roman historian Tacitus, the Jewish historian Josephus and in the Jewish Talmud which speak of a great catastrophe as the earth quaked and the entrance to the Temple was thrown open so that all could see in, this occurring some forty years before the temple was destroyed in AD 70.
As the Fathers wrath was poured out on the innocent Son who took our sin, now we, the guilty are declared innocent and have full freedom to enter the throne room of God. The loneliness Christ endured for us procures our full acceptance before the Father. The split veil points to the open access we now all enjoy.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus Hebrews 10:19
Because of His work we are commanded to approach God having the certainty that we are accepted because our guilty consciences no longer accuse us.
Just as that veil 2000 years ago was removed, so too the walls of separation we erect which keeps us from enjoying our relationship with God must come down. That internal veil of conscience which is most clearly expressed in the external Law reminds us that Gods holiness precludes His ever relating to us because of our sinfulness. That barrier can never be penetrated by our own effort. In His book Guilt and Grace, the Swiss doctor Paul Tournier, a man of deep personal faith, admits, "I cannot study this very serious problem of guilt with you without raising the very obvious and tragic fact that religion--my own as well as that of all believers--can crush instead of liberate." Tournier tells of patients who come to him: a man harboring guilt over an old sin, a woman who cannot put out of her mind an abortion that took place ten years before. What the patients truly seek, says Tournier, is grace. Yet in some churches they encounter shame, the threat of punishment, and a sense of judgment. In short, when they look in the church for grace, they often find ungrace. (What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey)
While we can not scale the mountainous heights of the veil of our own conscience, it was breached for us by Christs death. Now Christ is the Lord of the conscience, not the Law. You may know that you are an unworthy sinner, but you must never believe the lie that you may not come to the Father. Do not believe the conscience more than you believe Christ. Christs work in separating Himself from God unites you to the Father. He has torn down the veil so that you may enter in through His merit, into Gods presence. When your conscience tells you your sin, believe it. But believe more when Christ tells you your sins are forgiven.
A man was greatly disturbed about his sin, so he wrote to Martin Luther. The reformer, who had agonized much over his own shortcomings, replied, "Learn to know Christ and Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and say--Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness . . You took on You what was mine; You set on me what was Yours. You became what You were not that I might become what I was not."
The Fathers reception is seen in the open tombs (verses 52-53)
As the Son willingly completed the work given to Him by the Father, the earth shook so that not only the temple was destroyed and free access to the Father was granted, but our reception by God, because of Christs rejection, also opened the tombs. Not only do we have the hope of access to God now, but have the promise of eternal life as well.
This scene is recorded only in Matthew and serves as a preview of the coming attractions. While other gospel writers wait until Easter morning for the Resurrection, Matthew pictures it even as Christ dies for our sins. The two form one great work of salvation. This short verse evokes more questions than we have answers. Who were these people who arose? We dont know. They seem to have been recognized by those in the city. Anything more than that is speculation. What happened to them? Did they remain alive like Lazarus or go immediately to heaven? Again, we do not know. Those issues are unimportant to what Matthew is picturing here.
Jesuss death opened the graves. The greatest separation we all fear, death, is destroyed as the Triune God takes on death in the God-man Jesus Christ so that we may never fear death again. Jesuss death conquers both our guilt which precludes our coming to God and our grief which torments us as we face death. Jesus promised this earlier when He said in John 5:25: "An hour is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54), and those who listen will live.
Does the fear of death plague you, wondering whether there is any hope after death? This short verse reminds us that matter matters to God. God made it in creation, took in on in incarnation, and raises it again in resurrection.
This brief event also answers the question as to the power of Jesus's death for those who died before His coming as well as a picture of what will take place from then on. The opened tombs tell us that Jesuss death has as much power to raise those who looked forward to His work as it does to raise those who look back to His work. Christs death reaches in all directions in time and space. The death of Jesus reaches out as far horizontally into history as it reaches up vertically into eternity. The two directions of the Cross - outward and upward - teach the completeness of Christs work. The split veil and open tombs give us the two deepest meanings of Jesuss death.
The Fathers reception is seen in the open confession (verse 54)
While the confused crowds could not comprehend the events which surrounded them, the Roman soldiers began to grasp the earth-shaking events which they witnessed. Just as some thirty years before it was the gentile Magi who honored Jesuss birth, so now the gentile soldiers honor Jesuss death. They saw what Jesus did; they heard what He said. The blood of Christ not only awakens dead bodies, but also sinners souls. With the soldiers' confession, Jesuss Word has begun immediately to produce conversions, starting in the least likely places. As soldiers they had witnessed executions before. Theyd been hardened to men dying, but this death was different, for in Christs death their hard hearts were broken by the power of Christ.
They spoke the words at the Cross that no one else dared say: "Surely this was the Son of God."
Christs cry of the Fathers desertion was foretold hundreds of years before by David in Psalm 22, but so is the wonderful conclusion of that work. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28) The result of this great company coming to worship Christ is that a feast will be laid out for all. From one generation to the next we have the privilege to tell others of His greatness, to feast at His table and enjoy His goodness. We have that opportunity this morning as we gather around the table, to eat and drink, to look once again to Christ for all He has done for us.