Christ, Sacrifice of Atonement {Matthew 27}

1:13 AM

By Lisa Thayer

Romans 3:25 says, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”

According to the NIV Study Bible, “Christ is our sacrifice of atonement. In other words, he died in our place, for our sins. God is justifiably angry at sinners. They have rebelled against him and cut themselves off from his life-giving power. But God declares Christ’s death to be the appropriate, designated sacrifice for our sins. Christ then stands in our place, having paid the penalty of death for our sin, and he completely satisfies God’s demands. His sacrifice brings pardon, deliverance, and freedom.”

So who did Christ die for? You? Me? Ultimately, Christ died for God. The glory of God drove Jesus to the cross. Jesus said in John 12:27-28, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

We are so quick to say Jesus died for our sins, but it is God’s holiness for which Christ died. “…by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8b)

Jesus is our substitution for the death we deserve. Scripture is very clear – the payment of sin is death. Jesus is the Passover lamb who saves us with His blood. When God comes in His wrath and judgment on you and me, if we hide under the blood of the substitute sacrifice – Jesus the Lamb of God – we are saved. He is the Passover lamb who saves us with His blood and He is the covenant keeper (Exodus 26) who seals us with His blood.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” What is this cup? It’s not just the physical suffering, it’s mostly the spiritually suffering. Jesus’ sorrow and suffering in the garden, the cup He knew was about to take place, was the divine wrath – your sin and my sin, poured out upon God’s Son. Jesus endured your condemnation and my condemnation. At the cross, God expresses His full judgment of sin. Jesus endured the wrath of God so that we might experience the love of God.

At the moment that Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is not confused or doubting God the Father, instead this is a cry of physical agony, spiritual anguish and being alienated. If we turn to Psalm 22, we will see this prayer is a prayer of great suffering leading to great joy. Jesus is experiencing God’s wrath and separation from the Father. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Before the cross, we were cast out of God’s presence, in the sense of being cut off from God’s favorable presence, separated from His love and His mercy and His goodness, the Bible says that in our sin we were alienated from God, but now, because of the cross, we are no longer cast out of God’s presence, we are now invited into God’s presence.

At the cross there were four miracles that occurred. “From about noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.” (27:45) Darkness is often a symbol of judgment. Back in Exodus, the ninth plague was pitch darkness. But what occurred afterwards? The salvation of God’s people. You can’t have salvation without judgment. Jesus was under God’s judgment as He bore our sins in His body. He died in our place. He took the judgment we deserve and the wrath of God poured out on Him.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” (27:50)
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (27:51-53)

These things happened one after the other in succession. We have seen that the tearing of a garment expressed intense grief. As we see the curtain in the temple being torn, it’s as if the temple itself was tearing its garment in grief over the murder of Jesus – the One whose presence invaded the temple. Remember, this curtain separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. I have read that the curtain was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high and 4 inches thick, and horses tied on each side could not pull it apart. The tearing of the curtain was supernatural – only the hand of God could have done this. The Ark of the Covenant was in the Most Holy Place. The curtain served as a barrier between sinful people and a holy God. Only one man, the High Priest could have gone into the Most Holy Place. 

Remember Caiaphas was the high priest at this time and he would have been in the Most Holy Place offering the sacrifice. And now the curtain in torn in two! There is no longer this barrier between us and God. Instead there is a gate. Jesus is that gate (Matthew 7:13). We now have access to the very presence of God.

The third and fourth miracles are also a sign of God’s presence. “…The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (27:51-53)

I wish we could know who these holy people were who were raised from the dead. Can you imagine being alive at this time and experiencing this darkness, the curtain being torn in two and the earthquake which split tombs open and holy people rising from the dead?! Even the centurion was amazed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (v.54) Jesus’ death could not have gone unnoticed! Everyone had to have known something significant had happened.

The end of this chapter is so important to me. Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus. He was a religious leader, you know, the group who had persecuted Jesus and had him killed, an honored member of the Sanhedrin. But Joseph courageously asked to take Jesus’ body from the cross to bury it. The disciples who publicly followed Jesus had fled, but this Jewish leader, who followed Jesus in secret, came forward and did what was right.

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