Friday, May 30, 2008

Matthew, Chapter 27 part 2

As mentioned yesterday, we are dealing with the most depressing moment in human history in chapter 27 with the death of Jesus. Today we will see that actual death, but in it there is a ton of symbolism. Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has an idea of what the suffering and actual crucifixion was like. That movie was generally panned for its gore, but in reality what Christ had to endure was pretty close to that, if not worse. Flogging and then hanging someone on a Cross is certainly not a pretty picture, or a pleasant way to die, yet Jesus handled it with just about as much grace as one could handle it.

The small group from my church recently completed a study on the life of Jesus. When we came to the crucifixion I posed the question of what was more important: the actual death on the Cross or the Resurrection. Both were necessary, and I think both carry equal weight. The actual death is the pinnacle. It is the necessary sacrifice in order to fully eradicate human sin. At the moment of Jesus' death we see physical signs on earth that the bondage has been broken. The Resurrection, however, is also important in that it shows that death no longer held power over mankind because of the sacrifice.

50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. – Matthew 27:50-53

The curtain being torn in two from top to bottom is one of the most symbolic acts in human history. In Jewish culture, the curtain in the temple separated the Holy place from the Most Holy Place. Only the chief priest, on one day per year, could enter the Most Holy Place. Even then, he had to be purified through a series of sacrifices and rituals. A rope was tied around his waist and bells were hung from his robe. If he was not pure, God struck the priest dead. The bells let the other priests know if he was still alive, and the rope allowed him to be pulled out if he died in the presence of God. The curtain was a physical reminder of sin separating us from God, but Jesus' death broke that separation. The tearing of curtain meant that mankind could now speak directly to God.

57As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. – Matthew 27:57-61

My pastor once said during a sermon, concerning this part of the story of Jesus, that Mary Magdalene and the rest didn't know they were living in the Bible. Despite being with Jesus for several years, they doubted the resurrection. Therefore, at this time they were going through one of the worst days of their lives. There are several schools of thought as to where Jesus' spirit was at this time, either in heaven or in hell, but on earth the situation seemed utterly hopeless. Matthew writes here to show that hopelessness, with the tomb being sealed and the guards being placed near it to set up coming events. He even goes as far to say that they are there to make sure the body is stolen and the Resurrection isn't faked. To me, this is where the crux of our faith comes in. We must believe that this is true and the Resurrection happened as it did. If it didn't, then there is no hope for humanity at all.

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