The Incomparable ChristThe Calvary Miracles
Leslie Basham: When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Nancy Leigh DeMoss says, if you're still trying to earn God's favor though your own sacrifice and good behavior . . .
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: . . . then you're living like you've sewn up that curtain, as though no world-shaking event had ever taken place.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It's Thursday, April 2, 2015.
The death of Jesus was accompanied by several miracles. We're about to cover each one as Nancy continues in the series "The Incomparable Christ."
Nancy: As we've been considering the cross of Christ over these last days, I hope that you have come to realize that the cross is the watershed event of history. The cross was earth-shattering, death-defying, life-giving, access-granting. It was no small, insignificant, trite, or commonplace event. There had never been anything like it before. There never has been anything like it since. There never will be in all of the future. It is the watershed event of history.
As we continue to consider the incomparable Christ, His life is supremely incomparable because of what He did for us on the cross. As we contemplate what took place at Calvary, I want us to consider four miracles that were connected to His death.
There were numerous miracles surrounding the birth of Christ—you remember some of those. His earthly ministry began at a wedding where He performed a miracle—turned water into wine. John 2 says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).
Well, the Gospels record about thirty-seven of Jesus’ miracles. Those miracles were signs that He was indeed the promised Messiah. It's not surprising—since miracles surrounded His birth, and since His earthly life and ministries had had a lot of miracles surrounding it—that His death should also be accompanied by series of miracles. These miracles were signs to attest, to confirm, the significance of His death.
I want to read a passage from Matthew that states all four of the miracles, and then we'll take them one at a time and look at their significance.
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, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 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 (Matt. 27:45–53).
Let's look one at a time at each of those miracles:
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45). From 12:00 noon to 3:00 in the afternoon. As Luke's account tells it, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45). Darkness over the face of the earth. Darkness over all the land. The sun's light failed. Now you remember that at Jesus' birth, a host of angels turned the midnight sky into day. Now at His death, the noonday sky was turned to night.
There is, by the way, a lot of extra-biblical evidence for this event. I've read numerous historians. For example, the second century Christian apologist named Tertullian says, “At the moment of Christ’s death, the light departed from the sun, and the land was darkened at noonday.”
This was the second half of Jesus’ six hours on the cross, when the sun would normally have been the brightest, from noon till three. Yet there is a sudden, great darkness that falls. This had to be supernatural and could not, as some have suggested, been caused by a solar eclipse. Solar eclipses only last for a few minutes. For another thing, Passover, which it was that day, Passover always fell on a new moon, when a solar eclipse would not have been possible. So this was a supernatural act of God. It was the hand of God that brought this darkness on the face of the earth.
As you look throughout the Scripture, the darkening of the sun (we could spend a whole day on just this one miracle, but we've got four, so I’m going to give us glimpses into them) is often a symbol of judgment.
What comes to mind when you think of judgment? How about the ten plagues sent on the land of Egypt when God was wanting to set His people free? By the way, all through Scripture you'll see judgment and salvation going together. You can't have salvation without judgment. Where there is judgment, there is also salvation.
You see that in a classic way back in the book of Exodus. The ninth plague sent on Egypt was pitch darkness. A darkness to be felt over the land for three days (see Ex. 10:21–23). This was the judgment just before the final plague, the death of firstborn sons. You see the progression there? The judgment of God, the precursor of the final judgment—the darkness—was the penultimate judgment that preceded that ultimate judgment of the death of the firstborn sons.
In Amos we read about judgment and destruction being prophesied against Israel:
"And on that day," declares the Lord GOD, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight" (8:9).
Does that sound like what we just read about at Calvary? It was a sign of judgment. In the book of Revelation, you see how the final wrath and judgment of God is unleashed on those who refused to believe the gospel and repent. Revelation tells us, “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness” (16:10). If you read through Revelation, you'll see that a number of times. Darkness part of the final wrath and judgment of God.
So, the day when Christ died the sun was darkened. Why? Because the cross was a place of 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 deserved and the wrath of God poured out on Him.
Some of you may be thinking, You keep saying that every day. You keep talking about Jesus dying in our place. You know why I keep talking about it? We forget it. And some who have heard about it many times have never turned from their sins and placed their faith in Christ as the suitable, acceptable substitute for their sin. I can't just help but think that if I say it one more time, maybe one person will get it who has never gotten it before. God judged Jesus on the cross for my sin. It was a place of judgment.
The great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, said it this way,
Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut His glories in,
When God the mighty maker died for man, the creature's sin.
It was appropriate that at that moment when God's wrath was poured out on His Son, judging Him for our sins, that the sun should fail to shine.
Well, Matthew 27:46 tells us about the culmination of that darkness: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying. ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’”
Rending of the veil
Then, let me pick up at verse 50, where we see the scene set for the second miracle. Not just the mysterious darkness, but now the rending of the veil.
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 (vv. 50–51).
Now these things happen in rapid succession. Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cries out, “I thirst.” He cries out, “Into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” The darkness has been over the land for three hours, and now the curtain of the temple is torn in two from top to bottom.
In the ancient world, you perhaps have heard it described, tearing or rending of a garment was a way of expressing intense grief and mourning. As you see the curtain being torn, it's as if the Temple itself was tearing its garments in grief over the murder of the holy Son of God—the One whose presence invaded the Temple. It's as if the Temple itself was mourning.
Let's talk about this curtain for a moment. It separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, sometimes called the Holy of Holies. This curtain was magnificent. It was embroidered with blue, scarlet, and purple thread. It was designed with cherubim woven into it—angels who were associated with the majesty and glory of God. It was a massive curtain. It was thirty feet wide and sixty feet high. Josephus, the early first century historian, said the veil was four inches thick and that horses tied to each side could not pull it apart. So we see clearly that this was a supernatural tearing of the veil; that only the hand of God could have done this.
Now, the Most Holy Place—which is the place that was protected by that curtain, that veil—was the place where the presence and the glory of God dwelt—the shekinah glory of God. It's the place where the Ark of the Covenant sat. And on top of that ark was the mercy seat. And on top of the mercy seat were the cherubim with their outstretched wings.
That curtain served as a barrier between sinful people and a holy God. And no one was allowed to enter that sacred place, on threat of death, except the high priest, who once and year, on the Day of Atonement, would take the blood of an innocent animal. He would take it into that Holiest Place and offer it up on behalf of the people. One man, once a year, offering sacrifices on his own behalf and on behalf of the sins of the people. He would spread that blood, sprinkle that blood on the mercy seat, and for another year that meant the people's sins would be atoned for. Of course, it was just as a shadow, a symbol, a type waiting for Calvary, waiting for the Lamb of God to shed His blood for the sin of the world.
That curtain that the priests entered once a year meant: “Stay Out! No admittance. No entry!” Why? Because God is holy and the people were sinful. A holy God had to be separated from sinful people.
Hebrews 10 tells us what happened when Jesus came.
Therefore, brothers, . . . we have confidence to enter the holy places [those Jews have never been told to they could enter; they've been told not to enter; stay away; don't enter] by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (vv. 19–20).
His flesh had been torn there at Calvary, and now momentarily His Spirit would be torn from His flesh. His Spirit to go to God, His flesh to go to the ground to be buried, and giving us confidence to enter into that Holiest Place because He opened up the way for us.
Jesus dies at 3:00 in the afternoon. This is the hour when Jews gathered in the Temple to offer their evening sacrifices—sacrifices they were offering this particular night because of the Passover. Imagine you are one of the priests officiating at the Temple that day—lambs are being killed, blood is spewing everywhere, and all of a sudden the earth shakes, and you have this loud tearing sound, and the massive curtain is ripped in the middle from top to bottom.
And all of a sudden the Holiest Place, which no one has ever seen except that one high priest once a year. (By the way, we know that the high priest in that era was a corrupt man, not a holy man. It was God's mercy that he didn't get killed when he went in there.) But now, all of a sudden the Holiest Place, which no one has ever seen except that one high priest is exposed. The ark of God’s presence, the mercy seat and the cherubim all stand in full view for everyone to see.
The tearing of the curtain signified the end of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new. The sacrificial system was ended. It was no longer necessary because there was no more separation between God and man. Christ had offered Himself as a sacrifice in the place of sinful man, and all who believed in Him could now boldly approach a holy God.
Now, instead of a barrier between us and God, there was a gate, an entrance. Jesus is that entrance and gateway. The sign no longer says. “Stay out!” Now it says, “Enter in! Draw near! Come boldly! Welcome here!” We now have access to the very presence of God. If someone doesn't get excited, I'm going to have to say this louder and faster. Does this move you? Yes!
Oswald Sanders says in his book that we've been reading through this series, The Incomparable Christ, that, “Tradition has it that the priests, unwilling to accept the implications of this divine act, sewed up the curtain and resumed their ritual, as though no world-shaking event had taken place.”
I don't know if that tradition is true or not, but I have to ask the question: Is that how we live?
- What difference does the torn curtain make in your life?
- Are you still afraid to come into God's presence? Are you still terrified?
- Do you still feel wrapped up in guilt and shame, still trying to offer penance and sacrifices, and do good deeds, trying to earn yourself God's favor?
Then you're living like you've sewn up that curtain, as though no world-shaking event had ever taken place.
At the moment Christ died and the veil was torn, there were two more divine punctuation marks attesting to the supernatural nature of what took place on Calvary. I want to put those two miracles together because I think these two are connected.
Earthquake & appearance of dead saints
"And the earth shook, and the rocks were split." That word schizo is the same verb used in verse 50 in relation to the veil being "torn" in two. Now the rocks were split. First the curtain and now the rocks. "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 (vv. 52-53).
This earthquake was no small tremor. The next verse tells us that the Roman soldiers were “filled with awe” (v. 54).
Earthquakes in redemptive history are often a sign of God’s presence and activity. One comes to my mind in the Old Testament in Exodus 19 when God appeared on Mount Sinai to give His law to His people. “The whole mountain trembled greatly” (v. 18). This is the sign of the presence and the redeeming activity of God.
Earthquakes in prophetic literature in Scripture are generally connected with the righteous judgment of God. For example, we referred earlier to the seven bowls of judgment in the book of Revelation.
The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth (16:17–18).
An earthquake associated with the righteous judgment of God. So the Calvary earthquake first accents the fact that the cross was a place where God’s judgment was poured out on Christ. Then, it's a warning that one day His judgment will be poured out on those who refuse to believe in Christ and take refuge in Him.
Then number three, this earthquake points to the earth-shattering, transforming power of Christ’s death on the cross, where He conquered sin, death, Satan—a victory that will be consummated at His second coming.
So, we have the earthquake, and then in verse 52 we see that earthquake resulted in the opening of rock tombs, which were common in that area—graves that were hewn out of rocks. The passage tells us that “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” (vv. 52–53).
There are many unknowns and unanswered questions related to this miracle. Things like who were these saints who were raised from the dead? There has been much speculation about that. Were they raised with their same earthly bodies that they had when they died, or with new, glorified bodies, like Jesus’ body after His resurrection?Did they die again at some point like Lazarus did after being raised from the dead, or were their glorified bodies eventually taken up to heaven?
The answer to all those questions is, we don't know. It's sheer speculation. There are some interesting theories. We do know that these were saints; they were believers in Christ. That word is literally “holy ones.” They were those who had placed their faith in Christ who was yet to die. They had died before Christ. They were Old Testament believers of some sort. Whether those who had died recently or those who had died years earlier. Some say they were Old Testament martyrs. Most commentators believe they probably only appeared to other believers, as Christ was only seen by believers after His resurrection, before His ascension back to heaven.
Now think about what this would have meant to those who saw these people that they had known or heard about, who came out of the graves and came walking into Jerusalem. These young believers, who were still alive at the time of Christ, their faith was going to be greatly tested in the days ahead. They were going to suffer greatly for being followers of this crucified carpenter that they claimed was alive.
I wonder if God didn’t perform this miracle bolster the faith of these early believers, to give them hope, to remind them that through His death, Christ had put death to death; to remind them that He was the resurrection and the life. Perhaps it was in seeing these resurrected saints that had come out of these tombs that those young, early believers were encouraged with a foretaste of their own ultimate bodily resurrection. These are first-fruits. This is what you have to look forward to. This is just a glimpse of what will happen to your body in that ultimate resurrection.
Well, as we think about these miracles associated with Calvary and the death of Christ, look at verse 54 and see the response of those saw this take place.
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!”
Makes me wonder, has the cross become commonplace in our eyes? Are we “filled with awe,” as the soldiers were? Or, have we lost a sense of the significance of what happened that day? That day that we'll be celebrating tomorrow, Good Friday, have we lost confidence in what God can do? These miracles, they show the supernatural power of God. The soldiers were in awe. The centurion was in awe. We should be in awe in believing what God can do in changing lives, in granting forgiveness, and making all things new.
Let me close with this word from Charles Spurgeon from his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. He says,
These first miracles in connection with the death of Christ were types, typical of spiritual wonders that will be continued until He comes again. Rocky hearts are rent, graves of sin are opened, those who have been dead in trespasses and sins and buried in sepulchers of lust and evil are quickened and come out from among the dead.
There's nothing too hard for God, is there? In these Calvary miracles, we have attested the power of the cross, the power of what Christ did that day, and the significance of what it has for our lives today.
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been describing the miracles that accompanied the death of Christ. I'm surprised at how much meaning surrounds each of them, and I'm thankful that Nancy has explained each one.
Revive Our Hearts listeners have come to expect programs like this. The teaching clearly explains biblical passages. After hearing it, we better understand how to live out the truths we've discovered. Women are being changed by this teaching, and Nancy is encouraged when they write to let us know. She's here to tell you about one listener.
Nancy: I'm so grateful for the way the God continues to use Revive Our Hearts in women's lives. One listener from Indiana wrote us with an example. She said, “Revive Our Hearts has helped me so much over the last year. I'm going through a battle right now in my church.” She described some of the conflict there, and then told how Revive Our Hearts had been a means of encouragement during the time of turmoil. She wrapped up by saying, “It means more than you can know.”
I'm so thankful for friends of this ministry who help us speak to listeners like that woman. It's the generous giving of God's people that allows us to continue proclaiming God's Word day after day to women who desperately need to hear it. So if you've never before donated to Revive Our Hearts, would you consider helping us provide that kind of daily source of encouragement to women in tough situations?
Leslie: And when listeners make a donation of any size, we’ll say thanks by sending the book, The Incomparable Christ by Oswald Sanders.
This is the book that gave Nancy the idea for this teaching series. She developed new messages that corresponded with each chapter in the book. So when you read the book, you’ll discover it’s related to Nancy’s teaching, but different content.
Ask for The Incomparable Christ when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just call 1–800–569–5959. Please let us know the call letters of the station that brings you the program, or let us know if you listen online, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com. We can send one book per household for your donation this month.
Tomorrow is a day to slow down and reflect in a special way what Christ did on the cross. That’s what we’ll do tomorrow. I hope you’ll join us as Nancy lets Scripture tell the story of Good Friday. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.
Topics: The Son