In Jesus’s cries on the cross, we hear our acceptance. Dr. Charlie Wingard preaches a chapel messasge on Matthew 27 at RTS Jackson.
Our Scripture lesson this morning is from Matthew, the 27th chapter, and I’ll begin reading at verse 32. We count it among God’s most precious promises: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” But God’s only begotten Son cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This morning, our Scripture lesson takes us to the very heart of the Christian gospel. Let us pray.
Almighty God, we would pray that as we read your holy Word, that you would give us understanding and that we might respond to your truth with faith and love and repentance. And all this, we ask in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Hear God’s Word:
As Pilate’s soldiers went out they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry Jesus’s cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among themselves by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the son of God, come down from the cross.” So also, the chief priest, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “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. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema, sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
Here ends the Scripture lesson, and this is the Word of the Lord.
Now we leave Pilate’s court, and Jesus must carry his cross. But he staggers under its weight, and Simon is compelled to carry that cross and to walk with Jesus to the place of execution. It’s the third hour, about nine o’clock in the morning, and there they crucify him. Gathered around Jesus at the foot of the cross are the mockers, the crowd, the chief priests and the scribes, and we’re told in verse 41 that they say, “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.”
Either Jesus can save himself, or he can save sinners, but it can’t be both. It must be one or the other. And that’s the gospel.Did you catch that? Did you hear what they said? He saved others, but he can’t save himself. They didn’t know it, but they pronounced a profound truth. Either Jesus can save himself, or he can save sinners, but it can’t be both. It must be one or the other. And that’s the gospel. He cannot save himself and save us, too.
But these mockers, they don’t have any ear for Scripture. They see only a man hanging on a cross, and they completely miss its significance. They have no ear for Scripture. Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we’re about here, Reformed Seminary is all about making developing an ear for Scripture a priority in your life. And I want to ask you this morning, how’s your ear? Let’s find out.
The Crucifixion Narrative Has Echoes of Exodus
We come to the place of crucifixion. Look at verse 45, “Now, from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all of the land until the ninth hour.” That is horrific language. And you’ve heard it before, haven’t you? You heard it in the land of Egypt. Eight times, God speaks to Pharaoh, and eight times, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and eight times, God’s sends plagues upon the land. He speaks only one more time, and it will be his final word, then the ninth plague, the plague of darkness. Then the destroyer visits the land of Egypt. This is the first exodus: God’s judgment, death, deliverance from bondage in Egypt.
Now, this morning, we’re coming to the place of the second exodus. This exodus takes place in the most unlikely of places, a place that is filled with forbidding and full of terror. It’s at Golgotha. Even the name is ugly: the Place of a Skull. The place reserved by Rome to take insurrectionists and torture them to death, and that’s where our Lord is taken. Not the first born of God’s enemy dies, as in the land of Egypt, but God’s only Son dies. Darkness engulfs the land. And the person who has an ear for Scripture, when they hear these words read, they hear again the language of Exodus: darkness. judgment, God’s death, and deliverance from the bondage of sin.
When Jesus Christ Suffers, Scripture Is on His Lips
Do you have an ear for Scripture? That’s what we’re all about here at Reformed Theological Seminary. We’re cultivating an ear for the Word of God. Do you have an ear for Scripture? Well, there’s more Old Testament language here, is there not? Not just the language of Exodus, but the language of the Psalms. Look at verse 46, “And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema, sabachthani?’” You know that language. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The very first verse of the 22nd Psalm.
But again, the crowd–and this is tragic–they have no ear for Scripture. They say, verse 47, they hear his cry and they say, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Sinclair Ferguson says, “They must have believed Elijah to be a patron saint for the afflicted.” They’re so mistaken. They have no ear for Scripture. But Jesus is a man of the book, and the Word of God is always, always on his lips. And when life strikes him the hardest, what comes out of him is what is in him. It is the Word of God.
What about you? What about you? What’s on your lips when the life strikes you hard? Think about that as you think about the Lord’s example. When he was in the wilderness in piercing hunger and Satan comes to him and says to him, “If you are the son of God, command these stones to be turned to bread.” And what does Jesus say? He quotes Deuteronomy: “Man must not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When life hits him hard what’s inside him comes out, and it’s the Word of God.
Again, I ask, what about you? Listen to yourself when you’re hurt, when enemies wrong you. Do you retaliate or does Scripture come to your mind and to your lips? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What’s coming out of you when you suffer?
When the doctor’s report is not good, do you become angry with the doctors? Angry with God? Or is this what comes to your mind and then to your lips: “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good”?
What’s inside of you? You’re going to find out when you suffer.What’s inside you is going to come to the surface. When your children frustrate you, do you respond by launching a barrage of verbal missiles, or is your immediate thought, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged”? What’s inside of you? You’re going to find out when you suffer.
When your employer ignores your hard work, passes it over, then gives credit to someone else, what comes to your mind? Are you angry, bitter, resentful? “I’m going to walk off the job!” Or do you say to yourself, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for man”? What’s inside of you? Adversity is always going to bring it out. And what we want to see coming out of you is the Word of God.
Jesus’s Cry Is a Cry of Dereliction
Now I want you to focus on the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And I want to ask you, when you hear those words, what do you hear? Now, some, to be honest, have heard a cry of unbelief. That’s what they’ve heard. They say, and it’s blasphemous, but it’s been said, Jesus gets to the end of his life, and now he sees it’s been all for naught, and he believes himself forsaken by the Father. No one who loves the Lord Jesus Christ would ever for a moment entertain the thought that he died in unbelief.
Others hear a cry when they hear Jesus say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” They hear a cry of isolation. Jesus feels forsaken, but he’s not really forsaken.
That’s not what I hear. Here’s what I hear. I hear what the apostles heard, what they heard and what they write about in their letters, is a cry of dereliction. A cry of abandonment, of forsakenness. Do you remember the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus there looks into that cup, and he shrinks back in horror. What did he see in that cup? What did he see that caused him to pray, “Father, if it be possible, take this cup from me”? When he looked into that cup, he just did not see a prophecy of his death. He saw a cup of God’s wrath. He saw a cup, borrowing language from the Psalmists, that is full of fire and sulfur poured out by God upon sinners. He sees when he looks into that cup the shameful death of one cursed and forsaken by God.
And he takes that cup to his lips and he drinks it, all of it, for you. Richard Cecil, the Puritan, wrote, “Christ drank the cup of wrath without mercy that we might drink the cup of mercy without wrath.”
Christians Need to Feel the Weight of Jesus’s Suffering
What I want you to do now, you who have an ear for Scripture, I want you to try to feel the weight of Jesus’s suffering. Try to feel that. What Jesus hates the most, sin, that is laid upon him on the cross. I want you to try to feel the weight of Jesus’s sufferings, not just intellectually, be able to articulate them so that you can pass a test. I want you to feel the weight of his suffering. He knows sin’s evil, and on the cross, he is brought into as close a proximity to sin as is possible without he himself becoming a sinner. He knows when he goes to the cross what it means to fall into the hands of a living God.
He knows when he goes to the cross what it means to fall into the hands of a living God.John Calvin in his second book of the Institutes writes, “This is our wisdom: duly to feel how much our salvation cost the Son of God. There’s Calvin. It’s our duty to know how much our salvation cost the Son of God. John Duncan, the Scottish Presbyterian teacher, would become agitated as he talked to his students about the cross. And he would say to them, “Do you know what Calvary was? It was damnation and damnation taken lovingly for you and for me.” We must feel the costliness of our salvation.
Alexander White felt that. He one night dreamed a dream, and in that dream he saw a hooded soldier and that soldier was scourging the Savior, Jesus Christ. And you know from your studies, what a scourge was, bits of dried bones and metal on the end of a whip. A prisoner’s back could have been broken and he died before he even made it to the place of execution. And Alexander White, as he dreamed that dream of Christ and his physical and his spiritual sufferings, in his anguish, he reached out and took hold of that hood and pulled it back. And the face he saw was his own.
And you and I did that to him. It was for our sins that he went to the cross. We must feel the costliness of our salvation. When you hear Jesus’s cry, what do you hear? I hear a cry of dereliction. And I also in that cry of dereliction, I hear the agony of one suffering God’s holy wrath upon the cross for my sin and for your sin. And if you’ve felt the weight, the costliness of Christ’s suffering for you, you cannot ever look at sin the same way again. The poet: “Ye who think of sin but lightly / Nor suppose the evil great / Here may view its nature rightly / Here its guilt may estimate.” The agony of our Savior, I hear that when I hear his cry of dereliction.
Christ’s Forsakenness Means Our Acceptance and God’s Pleasure
In Jesus’s cry, I hear my acceptance.I’m asking you this morning in this chapel. When you hear Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” what do you hear? In his dereliction cry, I hear the word of God’s acceptance. It is finished. The debt for our sin has been paid in full. “Jesus paid it all, / all to him I owe, / sin had left its crimson stain, / he washed it white as snow.” In Jesus’s cry, I hear my acceptance.
When you hear Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” what do you hear? I hear in his cry of dereliction, I hear the father’s pleasure with his Son. Isaiah, the prophet, he wrote, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief.” Did you hear what Isaiah said? It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He is pleased with what the death of his Son accomplishes: the salvation of sinners.
When I hear Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I hear the father’s satisfaction.You who have an ear for Scripture. Don’t you hear in that cry of dereliction the Father’s pleasure? God did not spare his own Son, but he gave him up for us all. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
What do you hear when you hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Don’t you hear the Father’s satisfaction? I hear that. Jesus’s cross work, it satisfies the demands of God’s justice that the debt of sin be paid for. Look at verse 50, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” That curtain that barred access to the throne room of God, it is torn, and sinners whose faith rests in Christ now have access to the throne of God, the throne of our Heavenly Father that has accomplished our redemption. We have access to that grace in which we now stand, and we can bring our petitions great and small as children to a father, because Christ, by his death, has satisfied the demands of God’s justice. When I hear Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I hear the father’s satisfaction.
The Centurion Sees a Different Kind of Crucifixion
Now watching events unfold. At the place of crucifixion is a centurion, and he’s been to that place many, many times to do his terrible work. He’s heard the suffering. It begins with shouts of hate. Those continue with bitter cursing. But as strength gives way, the shouts of hate and the cursing, they give way to pleas for relief and then quiet sobs and then unconsciousness and then death. But that’s not what he sees on this day.
He sees not hate, but one who says, “Father, forgive.” He sees not cursing, but prayer. “My God, my God.” He sees a man with the strength to cry out and only then breathe his last. And he looks at our Savior and he says, “Truly, this man was the son of God.”
Christ’s Work Is Finished
Twenty years ago, I lectured for a couple of semesters in church history at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. And if you were with me, I could take you out behind Frost Hall and then you would see something unusual. You would see a very old and an unfinished wall. Construction had started, but that wall was never finished.
And there’s a story behind it. Mr. Prince, who gave the land for Gordon College, his son leaves behind his fiancée at the outbreak of World War I and goes to France to fight with the Lafayette Escadrille. And that father, out of his great love, starts to build a home that will be a wedding gift for his son and bride. The son is killed, and news arrives, and work is stopped, and that unfinished wall remains.
A father’s love, a son’s death, an unfinished work testifying to a father’s grief. Now I want you to look at the cross. A Father’s love, a Son’s death, and a finished work, testifying to the Father’s pleasure in his Son and to his pleasure in those for whom his Son died. His pleasure for you and for me. Look at that Savior. Truly, this man is the Son of God. And let us pray.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, impress upon us the costliness of our redemption. Purify from us carelessness with the sin, that sin for which our Savior went to the cross to die, to pay our penalty and to purify us. By your grace, may we believe every word and repent. And by your grace, we would love Jesus more and more. Hear our prayer now. For we offer it in the name of Jesus Christ. No one is like him. He loved us and gave himself for us. In his name, we pray, Amen.